Steve D’Ettorre can’t wait to eat in a restaurant.
Pennsylvania’s deputy secretary for technology and innovation for the Department of Community and Economic Development said that his first post-COVID-19 venture will probably be to Revival Social Hall in downtown York.
And the York resident knows just what he’ll get — an order of General Tso’s cauliflower.
“These restaurants are our gathering places,” D’Ettorre said Friday during a news conference at Central Market. “They are owned by our families, friends and neighbors. They are where we go when we want to celebrate, see a familiar face or just don’t feel like cooking.”
The hospitality industry – restaurants, bars and hotels – was among the hardest hit businesses when the pandemic struck. Bars were closed unless they served food, which could only be sold as takeout or delivery. Occupancy limits forced restaurants to pivot to outdoor seating.
Those occupancy limits have been lifted, but many in the hospitality industry continue to struggle, which is what prompted Gov. Tom Wolf to secure $145 million in relief funds for the state. D’Ettorre, in addition to other local county officials, were at Central Market to discuss how York County businesses benefited from those funds.
“We had revenue declines of up to 50 percent, and adding to the debt was not a feasible option,” said Audra Crenshaw, owner of Soul Food in the Park. She is one of York County’s 223 grant recipients through the COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program (CHIRP).
“Having the chance to apply for grants like CHIRP have been instrumental in helping us to keep our doors open and to put toward expenses from this pandemic,” she said.
Kevin Schreiber, president and CEO of the York County Economic Alliance, said he and his staff traveled throughout the county to make sure anyone who wanted to, applied for a CHIRP grant.
“We received 223 eligible applications with $6.4 million in requests for the CHIRP program,” Schreiber said Friday. “As anticipated, more was requested than we had funds. Props to our county government and our board of county commissioners to ensure that 100 percent of eligible applicants get funding.”
The state approved $4.9 in relief for York County, which was $1.5 million shy of the total requests. The county commissioners covered the gap, by committing to take the difference from federal CARES money.
“[The hospitality] industry quickly pivoted to takeout and delivery, to hosting virtual happy hours, to chef’s tables and to-go cocktails,” York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler said. “I really want to commend our downtown restaurants who worked collaboratively to host events outdoors, enabling them to remain open for business.
“And when we look at that, they were all competitors working together to benefit each other, and I think that is outstanding.”
Schreiber said that because the county’s money has not yet been received, business owners will receive their grants in two phases – 75 percent now and 25 percent at a later date.
Nearly 40 percent of business owners receiving CHIRP funds are people of color, and another 31 percent are women. Crenshaw and Assen Achu, co-owner of Central Market’s Global Café, are in both categories.
“We want to thank everyone,” Achu said Friday. “Our customers were so supportive and allowed us to come out of this. We were there for the community, and they were there for us.”
Jess Ayala, owner of Revival Social Club, and Tim Spangler, who owns Mezzogiorno, where the news conference was held, are also among the owners who received grants. The grant requests averaged just under $30,000.
Both restaurants managed to stay open during the pandemic, thanks to dedicated staff and the ability to adapt to the pandemic’s ever-changing requirements.
“The funding did two very important things for us,” Ayala said. “It kept us from having to close our doors to keep our staff employed and it allowed us to do new things to keep the money flowing. It also allows us to look at the future and the changes that will stay.”
Spangler said he is lucky to have a staff that is extremely “blue collar,” and stuck by the business through the pandemic.
“The struggle’s not done, but it did ease away a bit,” he said from in front of his counter. “We are just so thankful that we had the support, for all of the small businesses in York, as well as us specifically to stay open, we never closed. There are other businesses where staffing is still an issue, it’s time to get back to work and make things better than they ever were.”
D’Ettorre knows that patrons want to get back to their favorite restaurants. They want to meet up with friends and family and support the businesses that have been struggling for so long.
But he said it’s going to take more than just community support to get the hospitality business back on track. And that’s why the CHIRP funds are so important, he said.
“Sometimes, they are the backbone of a family, part of the fabric and a generational legacy. COVID-19 shut the doors and our hospitality industry was completely devastated,” D’Ettorre said. “These businesses aren’t just our livelihood, they are the life blood of the community.”
Shelly Stallsmith is a trends reporter for the York Daily Record. She can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter at @ShelStallsmith.