The $2 million landed in Urban Putt’s bank account while Steve Fox, the owner of the beloved mini golf course and restaurant at South Van Ness Avenue and 22nd Street, was at home. He can’t jump that high, but he attempted a hop to click his heels in elation. “I thought, ‘Whew. We’re saved!’” he recalled.
He wasn’t alone. The Federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which was created in March 2021 as a part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, has indeed rescued some 1,300 businesses in and around San Francisco — with a total of $815 million in grants. The top three San Francisco zip codes receiving federal dollars were 94102, 94133 and 94110, encompassing Downtown/SoMa, Chinatown/North Beach, and the Mission, according to an analysis by Mission Local.
Urban Putt, which reopened March 31, had been shut down for 54 weeks, draining the company’s monetary reserves to nearly zero, Fox said. So, he, like hundreds of thousands of others nationwide, applied to a federal grant program. He didn’t think he was going to get it.
“I was imagining there would be a long time of [Urban Putt] trying to make enough money to pay back the loans,” Fox said. “This takes that pressure off. It’s very wonderful.”
The federal program gave businesses money equal to their pandemic-related losses with a max of $10 million. Indeed, a few of San Francisco’s top awardees did get $10 million (McCalls Catering and Events in the Mission; Lori’s Diner; San Francisco C&C, the business that owns Mel’s Drive-In restaurants; and GOTHAM ENTERPRISE LLC, the business that helped launch Peet’s Coffee at San Francisco International Airport.) The lowest grant was just over $1,500, and given to Le Dix-Sept LLC.
The amount each business received was based on revenue they earned in past years. “We did well in 2019,” Fox explained. The money expires in March 2023, and must be used for certain expenses like payroll or utilities.
Additionally, businesses owned by people who are part of marginalized groups were prioritized by the Restaurant Revitalization Program and were given a three-week head start to apply.
Still, it was competitive. Some 278,000 applications were sent in, and 101,000 were granted, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, which ran the fund. On average, awards amounted to $283,000.
Grantees can spend the money for multiple and specific uses: payroll, mortgage payments, rent, operating expenses, and construction of outdoor spaces.
Certainly, the grants will be welcomed. The pandemic pummeled business in downtown as tech and finance companies evacuated the neighborhood during the shut-down, and clubs and bars closed. Chinatown restaurants were hurt months before the city’s shut-down in March, as racist rumors that Chinese people caused coronavirus repelled clientele. The Mission, already an underserved area, quickly became one of the city’s epicenters for viral spread.
It’s been tough for Fox, one of those Mission recipients. He went in every day to clean up the place, imagining when he could finally build his staff back up to pre-pandemic levels. As many others had to, he laid off workers and took out loans to stay afloat.
Now, the grant money will pay off an amalgamation of bills: back rent, utilities “which are quite big for this place,” food and supplies, and of course, payroll. Because it was a big ask and among hundreds of thousands of applicants, Fox was surprised he got the money. He got every penny he’d asked for.
The grant also allows him to rehire an events director, which Urban Putt relied on to book parties and other events that raked revenue in.
“It did feel like manna from heaven,” Fox said.
And Urban Putt was one of the scores of recipients based in the Mission. In fact, the Mission had the most awardees. Overall, 139 Mission businesses received money, which totaled more than $71 million. Most notably, McCalls Catering and Events on 1798 Bryant St. was one of four who landed a $10 million grant — the highest amount in the city. Local favorites Taquerias El Farolito, which has multiple locations in the city and region, received the second-highest award in the neighborhood of $4.2 million.
The zip-code that received the least help was 94143, Visitacion Valley. Only one business got any money: Sugar Jones, a food service company, received $323,154. Visitacion Valley is historically underserved, and along with the Mission and Bayview, was where Covid-19 spread quickly.
Fox said spending all the money before 2023 will be no problem.
“I mean it’s a big chunk of money, but I’m worried that people will say we’re rolling in money. We lost so much money when we closed,” Fox said. “This just starts to chip back at the hole.”