Baton Rouge restaurants hoping for more federal aid

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The National Restaurant Association continues to press Congress to replenish the depleted Restaurant Revitalization Fund, something many Baton Rouge-area restaurants say they could benefit from.

The RRF emptied so quickly, says Pete Sclafani, owner of Phil’s Oyster Bar, Portobello’s Grill and who is a member of the Louisiana Restaurant Association’s board of directors. The aid helped minority-owned businesses first, which is great, Sclafani says, but it left out a few still in need.

Sclafani’s businesses were mainly helped by the Paycheck Protection Program, he says, and because of that, didn’t qualify or receive RRF funding.

The PPP was intended to keep people employed, Sclafani says, but if you worked in catering, which saw decreased business due to canceled events, or couldn’t keep your doors open, your employees weren’t able to work.

“If you didn’t have a way to do business in the future,” he says, “how are you going to bring people back? You pay them to come in, so they didn’t get that PPP funding.”

A replenished RRF would help those businesses the most, he says. The funds would help local businesses reopen and cover losses.

The fund allocated $29 billion in federal aid but ran out earlier this year before tens of thousands of restaurants could take advantage. Lawmakers introduced bipartisan companion bills in the House and Senate in June that would add about $60 billion to the RRF, but the bills haven’t received floor votes.

Overall, the Baton Rouge community has done a good job supporting local restaurants, Sclafani says, but many still need help.

“It’s disheartening to drive by national fast-food chains and see lines wrapped around the block,” he says, “because local places are still struggling.”