‘A long time coming’: Restaurants hope second wave of PPP loans will get them through the winter


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Congressional leaders passed the $900 billion dollar coronavirus relief package Monday night and some small business owners say it’s long overdue.

The bill includes billions for another round of Paycheck Protection Program loans.

“Restaurants have been in need of something like this for several months, and we’re happy something’s finally happening,” said Nathan Lemley, who co-owns Austin restaurant Foreign & Domestic.

In his three years of being chef and co-owner, Lemley says his most difficult moment came this year.

“The hardest day, thus far, of this business was when I had to furlough all the front house staff. That was… That was really rough,” he said with a sigh.

Lemley ended up letting go all but three of his 18-person staff.

“You don’t ever imagine something like that’s going to happen, especially when the restaurant’s doing well, and you’re thinking to hire more people, and then all of a sudden—you don’t see those people every day,” he said.

He applied for a paycheck protection program loan over the summer and has since been able to rehire about 15 workers, but it wasn’t easy.

“Getting the PPP loan was a little bit chaotic,” he said.

Lemley says he spent hours on paperwork. And in November, the U.S. Treasury Department and IRS said funds used for things like rent and payroll wouldn’t be tax deductible.

“So, we had restaurants getting surprise tax bills throughout the last month or two, which they simply couldn’t afford with a decrease in revenue,” said Emily Williams Knight, president of the Texas Restaurant Association.

Nathan Lemley works behind a plexiglass barrier. He says added costs for safety measures made it hard to run a small business. “[We have] small margins to begin with, so any added extra costs that weren’t budgeted for–it’s a challenge,” he says.

Knight says deductibility wouldn’t be an issue anymore, and businesses could use their funds for things like plexiglass barriers and other COVID-19-related expenses.

In an email to KXAN, Texas Representative Lloyd Doggett also said loan forgiveness forms would be easier, shortened to just one page.

Restaurants would also get some extra help.

“Restaurants will be able to have three and a half times payroll versus two and a half times for any other industry, and I think that’s Congress’ recognition that we do need additional support,” Knight says.

Knight says this help comes at a time when more than 10,000 restaurants have folded and 160,000 of those workers are still out of jobs.

“It doesn’t save the restaurant industry—it’s not comprehensive enough, but it is going to limit the number of losses that we will experience in the next two to three months,” she said.

For Lemley, whose first PPP loan lasted about two months, he’s glad to see some movement.

“It’s all good things. It just felt like it’s been a long time coming,” he said.

He hopes to apply for another PPP loan, even if it is relief for just another couple months.

“We usually bank on October, November, December, to you know, make some profits to hopefully have some money to put back into the business for next year,” Lemley said. “This year it’s just focusing on staying afloat, making sure we’re there for our employees for a job.”

Both Lemley and Knight hope Congress will tackle another round of relief when they get back in session in the new year.

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