Uptown restaurateurs urge Congress to refill funds in the American Rescue Plan

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Courtesy of Cavan

The former Cavan Restaurant & Bar at 3607 Magazine St. will continue as to be used as a venue for private events.

Courtesy of Cavan

The former Cavan Restaurant & Bar at 3607 Magazine St.

Robert LeBlanc of the local restaurant operator LeBlanc + Smith, which closed its Magazine Street restaurant Cavan in September, was one of the speakers at a press conference Thursday (Nov. 4) held by the Independent Restaurant Coalition. 

The association is urging Louisianians to call on local members of Congress — especially Sen. John Kennedy, who sits on the Senate’s Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee — to refill the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, or RRF, part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. 

“Restaurants are on the brink of extinction,” said Erika Polmar of the IRC, opening the press conference. 

LeBlanc said his locations have been struggling during the pandemic. “Three of my five places have closed, with 25 jobs lost,” LeBlanc said. “As an example, one of my restaurants had a 40-seat capacity indoors and with the restrictions of table distances and limited capacity, I could serve eight customers. This is not viable.” 

Cavan has become an event venue. Two of the group’s French Quarter locations, Meauxbar and Longway Tavern, also closed during the pandemic, but RRF money helped the group reopen Longway as The Will and The Way.

“I got RRF for only one of my places, so it is stable, but the others are hanging by a thread,” Smith said on Thursday. “I can tell you that the RRF does make a difference.” 

According to Independent Restaurant Coalition: “Many of these businesses are on the brink of permanent closure because Congress did not allocate enough relief for the RRF. There were 2,978 Louisiana restaurants left behind in the first round of funding. More than 90,000 restaurants and bars have already closed and the small businesses that remain open are crushed by 20 months of debt, rising food costs, and consumer hesitancy due to the Covid-19 Delta variant. Reservations in New Orleans are 48% below their 2019 levels. And 21% of all jobs lost during the pandemic in Louisiana still come from restaurants and bars.”

Neal Bodenheimer, whose establishments include Val’s and Cure on Freret Street, echoed the pessimistic warnings during the press conference. 

The past 20 months have changed the face of the restaurant industry,” he said. “The anger and fear have been unforgettable, to have to lay off employees. Some of them will never come back.” 

Bodenheimer stated that if there is no consistency in the amount of business, it is difficult to keep the bottom line in the black. Low pay and uncertainty are driving employees away from the industry, the restaurateurs said. 

“Today my places are open, but only one in four got the RRF. It remains touch and go,” he said. “I am always asking myself  ‘Will they make it?’”

To support more funding for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, contact Sen. John Kennedy here.

2 thoughts on “Uptown restaurateurs urge Congress to refill funds in the American Rescue Plan

  1. Hello, hearing from other resturant owners like myself is frightening and im confused as to what is congress waiting for & why this has to happen for congress to understand we are in trouble, im also holding on by a tread, we need congress to hear us today

  2. We opened our small café in Sarasota Florida on Jan. 25th, 2018. In the first 2 years we employed over 30 people, at different times throughout the day, over 7 days a week. Our café was open every day for business, 12 hours per day. We employed high school and college students, as well as several adults. Our nightmare began in March of 2020, when we were forced to close our doors. My daughter and I reopened the café in April of 2020, and it has been just her and myself operating this café, 7 days a week. Due to the lack of staff and the continuous, 7day work schedule, we were forced to reduce our hours. We are now heading into our 19th month of nonstop working, with a total of 4 days off (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day and Easter). We both continue pushing forward in hopes that our café will continue to survive. Our local customers Thank Us every day for what we do in allowing them to continue to have our health foods provided for them. We own/operate a Superfoods Café and our customers love our product. I am reaching out to leaders of congress, asking them to Please Replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Funds. This would certainly help keep our café afloat. It will enable us financially with hiring staff back and most importantly, help me, as a father, feel relieved knowing that my 21-year-old daughter can have a day or 2 off per week, to be a kid. Since all of this happened my daughter has not done anything, other than help me every day with this café. I find myself thanking her so much and that is not enough. I feel terrible, as a father, that she is in this position with me and to make matter worse, she is being paid a couple of hundred dollars a week, because we cannot afford any more. At this point in time, I am about to stop my pay all together and just take a draw as need to pay for our housing, utilities, and food. I am so thankful every day that we are not “yet” being homeless, and I feel fortunate as compared with so many others, but we cannot continue much longer. Please, please, please, Replenish the Restaurant Revitalizations Funds and Please be sure it is provided to the people who deserve it most. I thank you for your time with reading my story and I will continue my prayers for this Replenishment to become available. Sincerely, Robert James Roemhild Jr.

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