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March 2, 2021

King bill would provide $120B in relief for restaurants hurt by pandemic

Table under outdoor igloo at Boone's in Portland Photo / Renee Cordes This winter, a number of Maine restaurants are offering innovative options for safe outdoor dining.

A bill co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, would set aside $120 billion to help independent restaurants and small franchises who face long-term challenges due to the pandemic.

“Maine’s restaurants are central parts of our economy and our communities," King said in a news release. "The coronavirus pandemic has threatened this industry, putting livelihoods and small businesses at risk. Congress needs a response that meets the scope of the challenge, providing restaurants with the funds they need to cover payroll, rent, utilities, and more."

He also noted that the bill is bipartisan, calling on fellow lawmakers to "get this done, and protect these local treasures until we bring this pandemic under control.”

The effort comes after restaurants lost more than $240 billion in 2020 sales and ended the year with 2.5 million fewer jobs than before the crisis. 

More than one in six eateries nationwide are closed permanently or long-term, and open restaurants are grappling with lower revenues because of reduced capacity and social distancing requirements. In Maine, restaurants are still restricted to 50 people indoors at any given time and must follow strict health and safety measures.

King first co-sponsored the restaurant relief bill last summer when it was first introduced.

Formally known as the Restaurants Act, the bill would create a $120 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund to provide relief to independent eateries as well as food service or drinking establishments that are part of a group of up to 20 facilities.

A spokesman for King told Mainebiz on Tuesday that the Restaurants Act is unlikely to go to the floor on its own, but proponents are working on having it added to the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill this week. King met with President Biden on Monday to lay out priorities.

If the restaurant relief measures pass, owners will be able to apply for grants of up to $10 million to cover eligible expenses retroactively to February 15, 2020, and ending eight months after the legislation is signed into law.

Grants could be used to support payroll, benefits, mortgage, rent, utilities, building maintenance and construction of outdoor facilities, supplies (including protective equipment and cleaning materials), food, operational expenses, paid sick leave, debt obligations to suppliers and other essential expenses.

The recovery fund is expected to generate at least $183 billion in primary benefits and $65 billion in secondary benefits, or roughly more than double the amount of the proposed grants.

Revolving doors

In Portland alone, the restaurant sector has been a revolving door of activity, with some businesses shutting down permanently during the pandemic and others jumping on available space.

COVID-era casualties include Vinland and Drifters Wife, and more recently Old Port staple Bill's Pizza, which served its last slices on Sunday after more than 70 years in business.

That space was quickly snapped up by Holy Donut, months after closing its Exchange Street location, where in  pre-COVID times tourists would frequently queue up on the street for the famous potato donuts .

Bill's Pizza storefront
Photo / Renee Cordes
Bill's Pizza in Portland's Old Port had its last day in business on Sunday. The Holy Donut aims to occupy that same location by early summer, serving "Donuts After Dark," according to business operations director Ryan Howe.

Ryan Howe, director of business operations for the Holy Donut, told Mainebiz that they hope to be on Commercial Street by early summer though that's contingent on construction, and expect to hire 40 people for that location.

In keeping with a Bill's Pizza's long-cherished tradition of serving late-night pizza, Howe said the Holy Donut plans to peddle "Donuts After Dark."

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March 2, 2021

This bill would make restaurants whole for lost revenues due to state mandated closures and occupancy restrictions. Very much needed/

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