How the James Beard Foundation created a rapid-response fund to support independent, small business restaurants in communities across the United States.
The coronavirus crisis has disrupted all sectors of the food economy, upending supply chains and turning grocery store employees into our front line of defense. The independent restaurant sector and its millions of employees have also been critically affected. Statistics from the James Beard Foundation (JBF) show that the restaurant industry generates $1 trillion annually, employing nearly 16 percent of the US workforce. Like many local small businesses, independent restaurants typically put the majority of their profits back into their communities and serve as crucial components of the social and cultural fabric that holds those communities together.
In response to the coronavirus, and with support from the team at Arabella Advisors and our partners at New Venture Fund, the James Beard Foundation has stepped forward to provide swift economic support to the people at the heart of the industry through the JBF Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund. Already, the fund has secured pledged donations of more than $4 million and awarded its first two rounds of grants across JBF’s 12 regions, with a final round still to come. Small grants of $15,000 are being disbursed to independent restaurants with fewer than 100 employees, helping them pay bills and prevent long-term closures. The first two rounds of grants reached business owners in 40 states and territories and are helping many small businesses that have been neglected elsewhere: 62 percent of recipients have fewer than 25 employees.
They include business owners like Amanda and Brian Light, owners of Ronin at the Ice House in Bryan, Texas. Rather than celebrating their restaurant’s second anniversary this May in-person, the pandemic has forced them to switch to a takeout model and reduce their 42 employees to 10. The Lights have been seeking various sources of funding to stay afloat, including from federal programs like the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan as well as state and local grants.
The JBF Relief Fund grant was the first support to come through. “We are tremendously grateful for the James Beard Foundation Relief Fund,” Amanda explained. “Without this, we would have been like so many other restaurant businesses around the country with shuttered doors and dashed dreams.” The Lights plan to use the grant from JBF to pay their seafood supplier, cover utility bills, and help with payroll.
JBF is also providing multiple other resources to its network, including industry support webinars, a chef advocacy toolkit, and a compilation of other industry resources and regional relief groups. Additionally, JBF is participating in the Independent Restaurant Coalition, a group of chefs and industry leaders advocating for inclusion of small restaurants in federal government relief efforts.
The team at Arabella Advisors is proud to play a part supporting the JBF team alongside our partners from New Venture Fund, a nonprofit fiscal sponsor that supports innovative and effective public interest projects. Hosting the relief fund at NVF allowed the fund to mobilize quickly, using NVF’s existing platform to save time and get relief into the hands of independent food and beverage businesses as quickly as possible. The Arabella team is providing back-office support, helping to process payments and provide compliance assistance, working diligently with partners at financial institutions to release a record number of grants simultaneously.
Relief funds for struggling businesses are one of the many ways Arabella and its partners and clients are providing support in the wake of COVID-19. We are also helping clients who are working to address issues in local supply chains, provide immediate food donations, and identify innovative ways to employ currently out-of-work food sector employees in providing aid. The needs across the food sector are vast, to say nothing of support needed in other sectors, and Arabella is committed to helping our partners use their resources to provide as much relief as possible, even as we identify and share innovative solutions for rebuilding existing systems better.
Stay tuned for future blogs on the inspiring work our clients and partners are undertaking, across the food system and beyond.