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September 17, 2020

First recipients of Maine chef-led restaurant relief fund get $5K grants

a woman with a large bowl of strawberries is tipping it to ladel them onto freshly made biscuits as a large bowl of whipped cream stands by Screenshot / Re-Up ME Sunday Supper Sara Jenkins, chef at Nina June in Rockport, demonstrates how to make classic Maine strawberry shortcake during the Sept. 13 episode of Sunday Supper, the Re-Up ME weekly fundraiser.

The first two recipients were awarded grants Sunday from a chef-led effort that hopes to award 100 this year to restaurants affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The owners of Rustica Cucina Italiana, in Rockland, and Smitty's Cinema, in Windham, were awarded $5,000 grants through the Re-Up ME Maine Restaurant Relief Fund program, during its weekly Sunday Supper cookalong fundraiser, which is livestreamed at 5 p.m. Sundays on

Re-Up ME seeks to fill the financial gap caused by the pandemic, allowing restaurateurs to make it to next summer. The premiere grants were awarded at the second of 10 Sunday Suppers. 

Re-Up ME intends to award 100 grants across Maine's 16 counties by the end of December, said Rory Strunk, CEO of O’Maine Studios, where the program is filmed.

"The grants give the restaurant owners hope and a spirit to fight another day,” Strunk said. The hour-long Sunday Supper cook-alongs, which feature chefs guiding viewers through recipes, also allow viewers to make donations to the fund.

“Every little bit helps to get us through the winter,” said John Stowe, chef-owner of Rustica, via Zoom, after he was announced as a winner during the Sept. 13 show.

Albert Waitt of Smitty's said his cinema-dining hybrid was hit hard by the pandemic. The money "allows us to provide PPE for staff" and keep them employed, he said.

While donations that come in during the Sunday Suppers help support the program, the bulk of the grants are made possible through corporate sponsorships from Hannaford, Bangor Savings Bank, Cross Insurance and Oakhurst, according to a news release from HospitalityMaine, which issues the grants through its education foundation.

“Re-Up ME places a spotlight on the struggles facing all our independent restaurants across the state,” said Steve Hewins, president and CEO of HospitalityMaine. “We hope to help as many restaurants as possible, of all sizes, survive through the winter and sustain themselves into the future.”

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