Restaurants are struggling. Here is another offer to help them
When COVID hit, Greek International lost all of its staff, leaving only Iliades and its chef to run the restaurant. She hopes to use the $5,000 to buy a new grill and employee uniforms.
A nonprofit dedicated to amplifying women’s voices in the workplace, the Massachusetts Conference for Women awarded $330,000 in grants last year, which, according to founding board member Marian Heard, was crucial to keeping businesses afloat.
The grant money is a fraction of the nearly $1 billion the federal government sent to restaurants in Massachusetts in April as part of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. But thousands of applicants have been barred from those payments — and advocates are pushing for more federal and state funds to help the struggling industry.
Some Women’s Conference grant recipients missed the deadline to apply for federal aid or didn’t know how to apply, making the recent financial aid all the more essential.
“We think it’s critical for women to support women, and we know very honestly that in the last year we’ve made a big difference in their business and their lives,” said Heard, who is also vice president. from the administration board.
The board voted to increase grant funding to $400,000 this year, and the selection process took months. In partnership with the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, the Women’s Conference encouraged female-owned restaurants across the state to apply, with a short form explaining the impact of the grant on them. The responses, Heard said, were “quite poignant.”
“People are hurting, they need money just to keep the doors open,” she said. “So the money from this year and last year has been critical to the survival of some of these businesses.”
An Nguyen, one of three female owners of grant recipient Sugidama Soba & Izakaya in Somerville, said business was down 50% since last summer and fall thanks to the spike in COVID cases fueled by by Omicron. The majority of Sugidama’s employees are women, Nguyen said, and the restaurant will likely use the grant money to support them.
“Everyone talks about labor shortages, but we’ve never had this problem,” Nguyen said. “I think if you treated your employees well before the pandemic, they will be loyal to you.”
Sandrine Rossi of Frenchie Wine Bistro in Boston has a similar view of how she plans to use the grant money and will use the funds to support a manager’s maternity leave.
“I think one of the lessons of the pandemic is that we need to take better care of ourselves and each other,” Rossi said. “[The grant money] gives us the ability to have conversations about time off and vacation, which allows us to plan better and it’s easier for employees.
Kelly Fernandes, co-owner of Ula Cafe in Jamaica Plain, called the grant “a blessing”. She said one of the biggest challenges of the pandemic was the rising cost of supplies.
“Dealing with higher food costs has been very difficult, as it forces us to raise our prices,” Fernandes said. “We really try not to make a cup of coffee expensive or get a salad or a sandwich.”
Along with the immediate impacts the grant money will have on keeping its 80 recipients afloat, the $400,000 also reflects the importance of women-owned restaurants to the wider community, Iliades said.
“I feel very lucky to be given this opportunity,” Iliades said. “As a mother of two young girls, it is often difficult to balance work and home. And I think with this movement of women supporting each other, it gives women and our girls hope and pride to do what we are truly passionate about.
Annie Probert can be reached at [email protected]