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Metro Detroit restaurants push for Congress to replenish revitalization fund

Posted at 11:12 PM, Jan 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-14 13:11:59-05

DETROIT (WXYZ) — This year for restaurants is starting to feel more like 2020 all over again. This time the doors are open, but the seats are still empty.

“It seems like when you start to think you’re out of the weeds with one issue, another major issue or catastrophe occurs,” said Nya Marhsall, owner of Ivy Kitchen and Cocktails in Detroit.

Marshall says on top of staffing and supply chain issues, right now her sales are down 85%. The only reason her restaurant is still open is because of the money she received from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

“I did receive the funding," Marshall said. "It is the reason that we’re still standing right now.”

However, many other businesses weren’t so lucky. According to the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, roughly two-thirds of Michigan business owners who applied got nothing.

One of those people is Tim Tharp, who owns Checker Bar and Grand Trunk Pub in downtown Detroit.

“It was definitely a blow and it was hard to hear,” Tharp said.

Tharp says he applied the first day he was able to and still did not get any funds.

Some metro Detroit restaurants like Bobcat Bonnie's were initially told they were awarded funding, but the money never showed after the fund ran out.

The lack of funding for owners like Tharp is being felt now more than ever with the omicron variant. As he battles inflation and staffing struggles, he says sales right now remain less than half of what they were pre-pandemic.

While Tharp is happy for his fellow restaurant owners who did get the funding, he says the large amount of money some of his competitors received is pushing restaurants like his further behind.

“How a lot of these small businesses and these restaurants have survived thus far is sometimes beyond me,” Tharp said.

In the midst of omicron, he and other business owners are calling on Congress to refund the program, a move that has been in the works.

“Helping restaurants and this kind of thing can’t be put on the back burner," Congressman Andy Levin of Michigan's 9th District said. "We have to push this through.”

Levin is one of the co-sponsors of a bi-partisan bill referred to as the Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act of 2021. The bill would refund the program with $60 Billion. Other co-sponsors from metro Detroit include Debbie Dingell, Brenda Lawrence, Elissa Slotkin and Haley Stevens.

Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow also co-sponsored this act in the Senate.

Although it was introduced back in June, it hasn’t seen much movement since.

“Everything that goes with this surge, do you think that will propel members of Congress to move this act forward, seeing the struggle they’re going through now again," 7 Action News Reporter Brett Kast said.

"I really hope so," Levin responded. "That is the approach I'm taking.”

Even though she already received funding, Nya is also pushing for it to be replenished. She's hoping her fellow restaurant owners who missed out on the first round can get the help they need to keep the industry on its feet.

"All we're doing is trying to remind people that we're here, we're struggling and we want to be here," Marshall said. "That's why it's so important that they make every call that they can, send every letter that they can, send every email that they can to make sure the restaurant relief gets replenished. Because if it does not, you will see another 150,000 restaurants close.”