Blumenthal Wants $60 Billion Added To Restaurant Revitalization Fund

Members of Hartford's hospitality industry gathered Monday to offer the senator insight as he prepares to address Congress this week.

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After distributing over $28 billion, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) was closed on July 6 after it was depleted. Now, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., would like to see it reopened and refunded.

Although over $300 million of the RRF was distributed in Connecticut, not everyone who applied for it received aid. The Connecticut Restaurant Association said of the 3,369 eligible applicants in Connecticut only 1,303 received the grant money.

Inside Max Downtown in Hartford Monday afternoon, Blumenthal was joined by several prominent restaurant owners to discuss the issues they’re facing and why they support refunding the RRF.

“It’s critical right now. This RRF is something that is a necessity,” said Phil Barnett, co-owner of the Hartford Restaurant Group, which operates the chain of Wood-n-Tap restaurants.

Those in attendance said restaurants are still struggling, explaining that food costs have risen dramatically and staffing is difficult.

“Without that funding we are not able to hire the people we need to hire. We are not able to pay the wages we want to pay,” said Jonathan Jennings of the Connecticut Wedding Group.

Jennings contends that the unequal distribution of RRF money has disrupted the competitive balance of the marketplace. He said those who did receive the grant money have a greater ability to market themselves and serve their customers.

“It’s fundamentally unfair. It was 100% unintended by Congress but it’s something they need to address and fix,” Jennings said.

The owner Vaughan’s Public House, a popular Irish pub and eatery in downtown Hartford, said the restaurant has lost virtually all its lunch business since many businesses in the city made employees work remotely. Now he said they and other restaurants are forced to pass some of the financial impact on to their customers.

“Our margins are so small as it is now.  We continue to do this, but we can’t do it without passing some of it along basically,” said Johnny Vaughan.

Blumenthal is headed to Washington D.C. this week and said he will lobby congress to replenish the fund by 60 Billion dollars. Restaurants, who were passed over in the first round would like to see that happen so they and all others who applied could be made whole.

“We’ve been hanging on by the skin of our teeth for the last 18 months,” said Pig’s Eye Pub owner James Varano. “Having that money, to be able to hold on until the city picks up again, is crucial.”

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