Las Vegas restaurant owners say $29 billion rescue plan will help them traverse pandemic

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Christopher DeVargas

Chef James Trees, Executive Chef at Esther’s Kitchen, poses for a photo before opening for lunch, Wed. March 31, 2021.

Thu, Apr 1, 2021 (2 a.m.)

Some Las Vegas restaurant owners say business is slowly returning, but they need a little boost to get them over the pandemic finish line.

That extra push could come from the federal government’s $29 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund, part of the bigger American Rescue Plan.

“Business is starting to pick up the past few weeks. It’s starting to feel really good,” said John Anthony, director of operations for the Sparrow + Wolf restaurant on Spring Mountain Road.

“A lot of my guests lately are saying they just got their first shot of the vaccine. There’s a hopefulness and an energy that wasn’t there six or eight weeks ago,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., was in Las Vegas on Wednesday to meet with restaurant operators and promote the rescue plan.

“The restaurant industry has been really negatively impacted by our inability to get out with others,” Titus said during a news conference at Esther’s Kitchen in downtown Las Vegas.

“We’ve lost over 100,000 restaurants in this country in the past year. We want to do all we can to help them. These places add to the diversity and culture of our communities,” she said.

The rescue fund is aimed at providing grants to assist restaurants with 20 or fewer locations. The National Restaurant Association projects grants could be up to $5 million for eateries with a single location or $10 million for operations with multiple locations.

Specifics of the program, which will be administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration, have not been finalized.

“It’s going to come down to us going over the guidance and figuring out how we can distribute funds fairly,” said Joe Amato, the SBA’s district director for Nevada.

“We need to make sure all the businesses that need the most help get the most help, especially in underserved communities,” he said.

The grants are expected to help restauranteurs supplement lost revenues, purchase food and beverage supplies and personal protective equipment, build outdoor seating areas and hire or rehire employees.

While more people are eating out — restaurants in Nevada can now operate at up to 50% capacity — there’s still an air of uncertainty surrounding the industry.

James Trees, owner and chef of Esther’s Kitchen, said “workarounds” like delivery, pickup and outdoor dining have helped restaurants survive the pandemic.

“As we get back to fuller capacities, bringing back employees is such a wonderful thing and these grants will help people get back to work,” Trees said.

“This will also help us get back to using our local suppliers and farmers. That will help folks all around the valley,” he said.

Anthony said restaurants have been in “survival mode” for the last year.

“It never allows you to think about what’s coming down the road in the future. There are 11 million people employed by independent restaurants, and we need to be constantly shifting and pivoting to make sure we’re here for the next day. A grant like this will really allow us to plan for the future.”

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