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Restaurant owners calling on Congress to replenish Restaurant Revitalization Fund

FILE: Restaurant owners are calling for Congress to take action on a bill that would replenish a fund created to help businesses stay afloat (KUTV)
FILE: Restaurant owners are calling for Congress to take action on a bill that would replenish a fund created to help businesses stay afloat (KUTV)
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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (KUTV) — Restaurant owners from around the country held a press conference Thursday calling on Congress and the Biden administration for help as many of their businesses are struggling to stay afloat.

The Independent Restaurant Coalition said there were more than 500,000 independent restaurants and bars that were supporting 16 million jobs before the pandemic. The government created the Restaurant Revitalization Fund to help restaurants stay in business, but only 101,004 of those restaurants received relief.

The group is now advocating for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act, which would add $60 billion to the fund.

Thursday's press conference included remarks from business owners from Ohio, Arizona, Tennessee and Utah.

Sara Lund, who owns Bodega and The Rest, 331 S. Main St., Salt Lake City, made an emotional plea for lawmakers to back the act, sharing her own story of hardship as a business during the pandemic.

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"We are licensed as a bar, which -- anyone that is somewhat familiar with liquor laws in the state of Utah -- created quite an obstacle for me during COVID because we didn't have the option, like a lot of other bars in larger cities, to offer a to-go program," she said.

While many restaurants and bars across the nation were able to offer their customers to-go drinks in lieu of drinking indoors, Lund wasn't able to do that because of state law.

She said bars in Utah that made 70% of their income from alcohol sales were "out of luck."

When the pandemic hit, Lund said Bodega and The Rest shut its doors for seven months, but eventually she had to reopen because bills were coming due.

She said she went into 2020 debt free, and ended the year by losing $600,000. During that time, she received less than $100,000 in assistance.

"I haven't had a choice other than to, again, drain all of my personal savings and put that into the business to keep it afloat and to be able to keep my staff employed," she said.

Lund noted the program initially gave her hope, but that changed when she saw restaurants around her receiving funds that weren't available to her.

"It's all very personal and was heartbreaking for me to see my neighbors, to see my peers receive these funds, this lifeline that I knew wasn't going to come for me," she said.

Because more relief wasn't available, Lund said she wasn't able to offer a competitive wage to employees.

"Bars and restaurants represent a community," she said, holding back tears. "I feel like those of us who are a part of this group, we feel forgotten. We feel small."

She said she's asking for Utah's congressional delegates to back the RRFRA. Without it, she said she doesn't know if she can survive the first quarter.

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"I'm completely at the mercy of whatever happens in the next 90 days," she said. "I'm at the end of my rope both financially and emotionally. It's been so much stress."

According to statistics reported by the Independent Restaurant Coalition, more than 90,000 restaurants have closed since the beginning of the pandemic, and more than 86% of restaurants and bar owners said they will close without an RRF grant.

Nearly one-in-five restaurant owners also reported having their credit scores reduced below 570 during the pandemic, the group stated.

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The RRFRA was introduced into the House in June. It currently has 233 co-sponsors, though none of them are from Utah.

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