A senator and the Small Business Association administrator walk into a coffee shop.... This punchline is no joke, though: On Wednesday, June 2, Senator John Hickenlooper and SBA Administrator Isabella Guzman, on her first trip outside of Washington, D.C., since assuming her position in March, visited several Colorado restaurants that received grants as part of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. In Denver, the pair stopped by Coffee at the Point, 2610 East 26th Avenue, to talk with owner Ryan Cobbins about how the $89,000 in federal funds he recently received has already impacted his business and his fifteen employees.
"What we have historically done [through the pandemic], is stagger paychecks," Cobbins explains, adding that the additional funding made it possible to pay all employees at once on June 1, for the first time in over a year. "The feeling I personally have by being able to send all fifteen checks out was, to me, an important piece." Not only are Cobbins's employees benefiting directly from the grant, but he's been able to use the funding to continue partnerships with his shop's local vendors, including many in Five Points, where his coffee shop is located and where he's worked to support the neighborhood since opening Coffee at the Point a decade ago.
The Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which was announced in March and rolled out less than two months later, received over 300,000 applications requesting a total of $76 billion. The portal for applications is now closed; a total of $28.6 billion will be distributed. Of that, $309 million has been awarded to over 1,500 Colorado restaurants and bars. Unlike the Paycheck Protection Program's complex application and strict rules on how funds could be used, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund was designed to be efficient and "as flexible as possible" when it comes to how the money can be used, says Guzman.
In Greeley, Hickenlooper and Guzman visited El Pueblito Mexican Restaurant, which used part of its funding to build a pergola on the patio, an investment that "is something that is going to structurally help the business for, hopefully, years and years and years," says Hickenlooper, who got his start as a small businessman when he opened the Wynkoop Brewing Company in 1988 — after getting turned down for loans by 33 banks. (He's already introduced four bills in the U.S. Senate that would improve access to SBA help.)
Beyond flexibility, the fund also prioritized access. "Congress made the decision to have a 21-day priority period for women, veterans and socioeconomically disadvantaged businesses," explains Guzman. That group made up more than half of the applications the SBA received, an encouraging sign that the approach was an improvement over the PPP process, in which African-Americans were "half as likely" to be able to access funds and "five times more likely to not receive the amount they were seeking," according to a U.S. Chamber study cited by Guzman.
Will there be additional funding? "Congress is considering it," she says. "There is huge demand out there."
In the meantime, Cobbins applauds the results of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. "This is a program the SBA got right," he says.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.