Good business for some

Restaurants along the coast have been stretched thin since COVID-19 restrictions went into place. Some have benefited from thriving takeout business, while others have struggled. Adam Pardee / Tribune and Review

After a long winter of closures, local eateries, breweries and wineries have a new opportunity for relief.

Last week, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an extra $1 million for a new grant program targeting local businesses — specifically county-based restaurants, breweries and wineries. The program is set to offer $10,000 grants to local businesses that are licensed, opened before the pandemic, have a brick-and-mortar location in the county and offer food or drinks

onsite. They also must have complied with county health orders and have seen significant losses due to COVID-19.

Sacrilege Brewing and Kitchen owner Joe Pacini said he will be applying for the grant program. Along with all other local restaurants, the Main Street brewery had to shut down dining in December and move to takeout only. Pacini said, in the best months, he’s seen around 50 percent of his normal business. The worst months produce closer to 10 percent of normal revenue.

“It’s been a roller coaster,” Pacini said.

The fund is currently supported by $384,000 from the San Mateo Credit Union Community Fund and Silicon Valley Community Foundation, $1 million from the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative targeting Peninsula cities, and $1 million from the county’s general fund. Applications will be open Feb. 22 through March 8. Awardees will be selected at random within a pool of applicants within their same city, town or unincorporated area in an effort to distribute relief across jurisdictions.

“Even in the best of times, 90 percent of restaurants fail,” Supervisor Don Horsley, who represents the coast, said in support of the program at last week’s meeting. “And these are not the best of times.”

The relief comes after a regional stay-at-home order kept both indoor and outdoor dining closed for two months during an unprecedented local COVID-19 surge. Restrictions were lifted late last month, giving local businesses the green light to reopen for outdoor business. President and CEO of the San Mateo County Economic Development Association Rosanne Foust said the program is designed to help the smallest, most vulnerable businesses, like those owned by immigrants or with fewer than 10 employees. Such businesses have seen some of the most devastating losses.

With his barebones staff, Pacini has found himself working more often, running the cash register and answering calls. He’s tried to avoid borrowing too much money from federal and state loan programs for fear of digging too deep into debt. That’s why this grant — and a $2,000 grant from the city of Half Moon Bay for building his outdoor parklet — are so critical.

“Everything helps,” Pacini said.

While the grants are designed to include wineries, Table Wine co-owners Katie and Courtney Brookshire won’t be pursuing one, even if their new Sharp Park shop were to qualify. That’s because 90 percent of their business is in retail sales, which have actually increased during the pandemic. Katie Brookshire said she’s watched as her friends with other local businesses struggle to win grants among large applicant pools while their sales have been slashed by pandemic closures.

“Because we aren't hurting terribly, we figured we wouldn't take it from people who need it,” Brookshire said. “... I'm not doing that. I'm trying to look out for the good of the whole.”

Brookshire said she makes shopping locally a priority, even donating some of her stimulus money to Pacifica food banks and to shop at small businesses that are hurting hardest.

“We’ve been screaming it from the rooftops,” Brookshire said. “All the time, but especially right now, is the time to shop local.” 

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