RICHMOND, Va. -- Restaurants in Central Virginia are still struggling after the pandemic, and now there's now one less way for them to get help.
Congress has voted to stop replenishing the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which the National Restaurant Association said is a devastating blow to the restaurant industry and small business operators.
"We've seen some some recent closures of restaurants that have been around, you know, 60 or 70 years that just can't seem to make it in this environment," explained Eric Terry, president of the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association. "So, you know, we really feel like that, that was necessary to really help the industry. And it was a program that already existed that did not have enough funding to start with."
CBS 6 caught up with Mike and Kimberly Love-Lindsey at their new restaurant, Jubilee, in Manchester. The couple opened their first restaurant Lillie Pearl in November of 2020, and because they didn’t have sales to support the previous year, they didn’t qualify for any government funding.
But said they also know some restaurant owners who had been open for a few years, but still didn’t receive help which forced them to make adjustments or close their doors.
"The disbursements sometimes didn't really seem equal," explained Mike Lindsey. "You know, some people were getting all this money, and then we had, you know, Pop's Market for instance. We ended up taking that spot over because they got zero help and zero financial support, and they just were at a point where they had to walk away from it."
The couple has seen success with their now six restaurants, and they thank the people of Richmond for that. But they're worried about other shops that haven’t been as fortunate.
"When you lose that amount of sales, and you feel like you never really got them back," explained Mike. "For me, that's where I feel like that money is needed for people that are just almost there."
Numbers from the National Restaurant Association show that the restaurant industry did just under $800 billion dollars in sales in 2021, but that's $65 billion less than they were making before the pandemic.
Also, in 2021, there were more than 14 million restaurant employees at the end. That's a million less than there were before the pandemic.
"The workforce is tough right now for restaurants," said Kimberly Love-Lindsey. "We're already dealing with that, and then when you see COVID spikes happen, then, you know, not being able to have access to these funds means they can't take care of their people, right. So they're just taking two step backwards after we're trying to take two steps forward. And it's just this constant battle."
The Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association said they’ve launched workforce programs and a grant for the Richmond area to provide free training, but they're also hoping the state allocates some of its $130 million in Rebuild VA Grant Fund to restaurants.
"I think relief programs for the industry are still necessary," said Terry. "There's still quite a bit of federal funding that cities and the state have received that we think they really need to continue to help the industry.
The National Restaurant Association also released a separate report stating more than half of restaurant operators expect at least a year before things are back to normal.