San Jose restaurant owner Jennifer Echeverri was promised a $5,000 grant to help her survive the winter amid tightening COVID-19 restrictions. One month passed. The money never came.
As of Dec. 22, none of the 30 San Jose restaurants that were notified of a grant had received one. They also were not told when the funds would arrive until San José Spotlight inquired about the money’s status.
The next day, the third-party company hired to administer the grants, notified all 360 nationwide recipients the money is on its way, and distribution will be complete by early next year.
“We know you’re anxious to receive the distribution, and we’re working to get them to you as quickly as we can,” Hello Alice wrote in an email. “Thank you for your patience.”
The grants, footed by food-delivery company DoorDash, were meant to help businesses purchase heating equipment and additional safety materials to maintain outdoor and possibly indoor operations, if the law allowed.
Echeverri, owner of Habana Cuba, applied for the “winterization grant” Oct. 16, the first day applications opened. On Nov. 20, DoorDash emailed her to confirm she would receive an award.
Recipients were told that anyone who did not respond to the award notice and send the requested paperwork, including W9 forms, in 48 hours would lose the grant. Applicants had until Nov. 24 to complete another miscellaneous form. Echeverri rushed to get the paperwork back to DoorDash.
DoorDash spokesperson Campbell Matthews said grants are being distributed on a daily basis but are slow moving because Hello Alice has to vet paperwork to verify the businesses’ legal and accounting documents.
The holidays are especially tough this year for Echeverri. Habana Cuba depends on its seasonal catering. In a given winter, Habana Cuba could serve 20 to 30 parties, but this year, it only had one major catering order come in.
She said she felt lucky to be one of the grant winners but could really use the money right about now.
“We’re surviving,” she said. “But I’m going to need more grant money soon. I don’t know what’s in store for January.”
Echeverri said she was glad she didn’t use the grant money on a tent for outdoor dining because the county issued a stay-at-home order prohibiting businesses from serving customers indoors and outdoors until Jan 4.
About a third of the nationwide grant winners have received their grants. San Jose recipients will receive their funds by the end of January. They can use the money to cover costs already incurred in preparation for colder temperatures, Matthews said.
But for some, January already is too late.
One didn’t make it
Chacho’s Mexican Restaurant, on East San Fernando Street in San Jose, was one of the 30 local grant winners. But the restaurant closed permanently earlier this month, buckling under pandemic pressures.
Jeanette Castillo, another grant winner who hasn’t received any money, fears her restaurant will be next to go.
She will be a part-time owner of Castillo’s Mexican Restaurant in January. The $5,000 grant was supposed to help her catch up on rent payments.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen next month and we don’t know if we’re going to be able to pay this,” Castillo said. “It’s tough… Any help is really useful right now.”
The restaurant is on the hook for $12,000 in monthly rent for a building that hasn’t been used since the ban on indoor dining. The business is relying on delivery services such as DoorDash and GrubHub to keep customers buying meals.
Prior to the pandemic, Castillo’s made $4,000 to $7,000 per day. Since the pandemic, that number has dropped to $1,000 per day — hardly enough to catch up on back rent, Castillo said.
The landlord gave her until April to pay rent for January and February, but Castillo worries the restaurant won’t be able to get ahead.
Frank Nguyen, owner of Academic Coffee, hasn’t received his grant either.
Because no one followed up with him, he wasn’t sure if he had filled out the paperwork incorrectly or if the grant just “fell through the cracks.”
“At this point our business is just surviving on a month-to-month basis,” Nguyen said, adding that business is down by 40%. “I’ve applied to every single grant advertised by the city and all the other small business resources that I’ve come across.”
After applying to more than 20 grants, he got his first response from DoorDash.
Nguyen said he is grateful for the company’s support but said Academic Coffee doesn’t use DoorDash because he cannot afford the service charges. Nguyen said he will reconsider DoorDash delivery as an option now that both San Jose and Santa Clara County passed a delivery fee cap to limit the amount third party services can charge restaurants.
While Castillo anxiously awaits her grant, she remains hopeful that more help is on the way.
“I know we’re not the only one in this situation,” Castillo said. “And I know there’s going to be more help coming in because the governor just announced some small business grants — so I’m going to be on the lookout for that as well.”
The grant program is part of DoorDash’s Main Street Strong initiative which seeks to help restaurants survive during the pandemic. DoorDash said it will be adding an additional $10 million to its cold weather grant program to help other businesses, including some in Canada.
To be eligible for a grant, restaurants needed to be located in San Jose and have three or fewer locations. The business needed to have 50 or fewer employees in 2019 and an annual revenue of $3 million or less in 2019 per store.
The local grant winners included: Academic Coffee, Anh Hong Restaurant, Blue Water Seafood & Crab, Bona Pizza, Braise, Castillo’s Mexican Restaurant, Chacho’s, Cielito Lindo Restaurant, Di Lac Vegetarian Cuisine District, Fu Kee, Gong Cha, Good Karma Cafe, Gunther’s Restaurant & Catering, Habana Cuba Restaurant, Hobee’s California Restaurants, Palermo Italian Restaurant, Pho Ga An Nam, Pizza California, Rookies Sports Lodge, Savory Kitchen, Smoking Pig BBQ, Spoonfish Poke, Tasso’s Restaurant & Bar, the Cider Junction, the Funny Farm, the Pasta Market, Valencian Gold, Voyager Craft Coffee and Walia Ethiopian Cuisine.
Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected]njosespotlight.com or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.