In-Depth: A look at how Rochester restaurants benefited from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund

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Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect new information from the U.S. Small Business Administration, which says applications for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) are not be accepted at this time.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Rochester area restaurant operators declared a federal program designed especially to help them recover from COVID-19 restrictions to be a lifesaver.

Newly released documents from the U.S. Small Business Administration revealed that about 9,700 restaurants across New York state received $3.7 billion in aid through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

"We’re not out of the water yet but we can at least take a breather,” exclaimed Nilesh Patel, owner of the Golden Corral in Henrietta.

Yes, the restaurant in Henrietta is now busy, but since it reopened on July 1, it’s still been operating at a loss.

"Still not enough,” Patel sighed. “Because we are in the red, over $30,000.”

Patel says the business would be in big trouble without an alphabet soup of government assistance for struggling businesses, PPP, EIDL, and especially RRF, restaurant relief funding. Newly released documents from the Small Business Administration put the Corral at the top of the list of Rochester area businesses getting RRF money, which Patel says has gone to utilities, the mortgage and hiring or rehiring 120 workers, like Neecy McWilliams.

"It was a relief to be back at work,” she declared. “It was. I haven’t been to work in over a year, so"

The story is similar at the Market at I-Square in Irondequoit, which the SBA reports got some $445,000 in RRF funding. Owner Mike Nolan says sales are about half what they were before the pandemic, the business is at least 25 percent away from just breaking even and that it has "no chance of long term survival without that assistance."

Patel says some loyal customers have been coming back, with their own eye on his bottom line.

“We are here because we want to help him,” said longtime customer Irene Dettore of Gates. :We want to encourage people to come.”

I-Square reports its RRF funding is going to payroll, rent and maybe some renovations while business is slow, and while all these restaurants ride out their return to normal.

"The time will tell,” said Patel. “It will take probably another year before we figure out that “Okay, now it’s self-sustaining."

The U.S. Small Business Administration uses three different formulas to calculate how much aid the restaurants received.

The first was for businesses in operation before Jan.1, 2019: Subtracting 2019’s gross receipts from 2020 gross receipts minus the amount of any Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan the business received, if applicable.

The second, for companies that opened partway through 2019: The average of its 2019 monthly gross receipts was multiplied by 12, 2020’s gross receipts minus the amount of any PPP loan the business received was subtracted from that number.

For businesses that began operating between January 2020 and March 10, 2021, it was the amount spent on any eligible expenses between Feb. 15, 2020, and March 11, 2021, minus 2020’s gross receipts minus the amount of any PPP loan the business received.

The minimum award was $1,000 but businesses could get up to $5 million.

The RRF program closed to new applications on May 24, However, the RRF Platform is open until Wednesday for those who previously applied to check their status, address payment corrections, or ask questions – but new applications have not been taken by the agency.