San Mateo County has created a $2.3 million relief fund to help struggling independent restaurants, breweries and wineries offset the "significant adverse financial impacts" they've suffered during the coronavirus shutdown.
On Tuesday, Jan. 26, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved $1 million for the fund, matching a $1 million grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to support small, local restaurants.
The program describes public health restrictions, such as the ban on indoor dining and the off-and-on prohibition of outdoor dining, as threatening the viability of local restaurants, and says that it is "in the public interest" to keep them alive.
"This program is a financial lifeline to help our great San Mateo County restaurants, breweries and wineries stay afloat while we await a more stable health and business environment," Supervisor Don Horsley, who co-sponsored the proposal with Supervisor Warren Slocum, said in an announcement. "I look forward to the return of our crucial hospitality industry."
Local "brick and mortar" businesses will be able to apply for grants up to $10,000 starting in February. The funds can be used to cover payroll, rent, health and safety updates they've had to make during the pandemic, and other costs. Horsley noted that not all businesses have been able to adapt equally during the shutdown, such as restaurants or wineries that don't have the space to build parklets for outdoor dining and tastings, such as parts of East Palo Alto, stretches of Middlefield Road in North Fair Oaks and the industrial section of San Carlos.
"They don't all have the same abilities to essentially pivot and change their business model," he said.
The Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative's donation is specifically for independently owned restaurants in East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, unincorporated Menlo Park and North Fair Oaks as well as Palo Alto. The San Mateo Credit Union Community Fund and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation have also contributed $384,000 for restaurants, breweries, and wineries located in other parts of San Mateo County.
To qualify for the relief funds, restaurants, breweries and wineries must have a physical location in San Mateo County, been open at the start of the pandemic last March and been "adversely economically impacted" by the shutdown. Restaurants are required to have full-service kitchens on site. Wineries must have an active Alcohol Beverage Control Type 2 license for wine growers and breweries, a Type 23 small beer manufacturer license. Distilleries are not eligible.
The program is targeting small, independent restaurants. Applicants can't run more than five restaurants, breweries and/or wineries in San Mateo County, eliminating larger chain operations. Corporate-owned franchises are also ineligible.
Restaurants inside hotels that don't have separate business licenses aren't eligible for the relief program, nor are catering companies, cottage food operators or people who run micro-enterprise kitchens out of their homes.
Businesses that already received or have been approved for grants through the San Mateo County Strong Fund Small Business Grant Program, however, are ineligible. Any eateries that have billed the county $200,000 or more for their participation in San Mateo County's Great Plate Program, which delivers free meals to older, high-risk individuals, cannot apply for the new grant funding.
"Restaurants are often minority- and women-owned and they employ immigrant residents. We have to help them until the surges subside and vaccination efforts make it safer to reopen," said David Canepa, president of the Board of Supervisors. "We understand the devastating financial impact on the business community due to the pandemic and restaurants are among the hardest hit."
The county will accept applications online during a window from late February into early March. Eligible businesses will be grouped into pools by location and then chosen at random, county staff said.
The county is also hopeful that other cities, towns and community partners contribute more matching funds to maximize the number of businesses the program can support.