Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina launched a $500 million program Thursday to help restaurants and other small businesses recover from pandemic-related losses.
The North Carolina Business Recovery Grant Program allows business owners who have seen at least a 20 percent decline in revenue to apply for grants equal to 10 percent of their losses, up to $500,000. Because the hospitality industry was hit so hard by closures and other restrictions, $300 million of the fund is earmarked for restaurants, hotels, bars and other entertainment businesses.
“North Carolina’s restaurants, hotels and bars saw over $5 billion in losses due to no fault of their own. These grants will be transformative to businesses across the state who have been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lynn Minges, president and chief executive of the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association, said in a statement.
Minges told WRAL News that grant awards are “untethered,” meaning business owners can use them for expenses from upgrading infrastructure to raising wages to help attract workers.
“There are no strings attached. This is literally a stimulus check from the government,” she said. “The holidays have come early to restaurants, bars and hotels, but we need it.”
Some restaurants have turned to outdoor dining to survive, especially as the number of infections statewide is once again surging.
“When you’re indoor, you have to wear a mask. Outdoor, you do not,” said Will O’Neal, co-owner of Winston’s Grille.
Winston’s spent $100,000 to install ceiling heaters and cover openings to the outside with plastic tarps to make outdoor dining the norm at the north Raleigh restaurant.
The outdoor option brought Dina Soceanu and her co-workers to Winston’s for lunch Thursday.
“We said that’s where we are going, and it was great because that’s the only restaurant we searched that was close that had outdoor seating,” Soceanu said. “We were actually supposed to have our Christmas department celebration this evening, but we were a little nervous about being outside. So, we said, ‘Hey, let’s go out for lunch because the weather is great.'”
The National Restaurant Association reports that 17 percent of restaurants across the U.S. – 110,000 – shut down during the pandemic. O’Neal said he believes the ones that have and will continue to survive, especially with new virus variants, need to put resources into making outdoor dining a year-round option.
“Anything you can to do it make it better to safely serve people, I’d do it,” he said. “We get thanked all the time.”
According to online reservation service Open Table, the number of seated diners is down 19 percent in December from the same period in 2019 – before the pandemic. Nationwide, that decline is 12 percent.
“Dealing with the last year, year and a half, I’ve never seen anything like it,” O’Neal said.
Although the state Department of Revenue opened the grant application process on Thursday, the money for it was included in the state budget enacted last month. Minges called it the largest appropriation by any state for the hospitality industry.
Other options for outdoor dining in Raleigh:
Crank Arm Brewing | 319 W. Davie St. | Outdoor Fire pit
Bittersweet Raleigh | 16 E. Martin St. | Outdoor heaters
Morgan Street Food Hall | 411 W. Morgan St. | Dog-friendly patio with heaters
Raleigh Beer Garden | 614 Glenwood Ave. | Tables with fire pits
Longleaf Hotel | 300 N. Dawson St. | Private patio with heaters + blankets
Trophy Brewing | 827 W. Morgan St. | Heaters on outdoor patio
Whiskey Kitchen | 201 W. Martin St. | Patio heaters
Vic’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria | 331 Blake St. | Enclosed patio
Gravy | 135 S. Wilmington St. | Shares a heated patio with Sitti
Sitti | 137 S. Wilmington St. | Shares a heated patio with Gravy
Humble Pie | 317 S. Harrington St. | Covered patio with heaters
Hummingbird Raleigh | 1053 E. Whitaker Mill Road | Patio heaters
Caffe Luna | 136 E Hargett St. | Heat lamps
Cowfish Sushi + Burgers | 4208 Six Forks Road | Enclosed heated patio
STIR Raleigh | 4242 Six Forks Road | Patio heaters
Rosewater Kitchen + Bar | 110 Park at North Hills St. | Covered patio with heaters
Bowstring Pizza and Brewyard | 1930 Wake Forest Road | Fire pit + garden patio
Angus Barn | 9401 Glenwood Ave. | Heated outdoor seating
Lynnwood Brewing Concern | 1053 E. Whitaker Mill Road | Outside heaters
Winston’s Grille | 6401 Falls of Neuse Road | Covered patio with heat lamps + ceiling heaters