A new website called PPP Spy gives full access to a database of businesses that received at least $150,000 in federal Paycheck Protection Program loans, including restaurants and bars. Earlier this week, the Small Business Administration released a massive data file with information about which businesses received funds, an approximate range of the total loan, the date the loans were received, and the number of jobs that were retained. The information was released due to demands from Democrats wanting more transparency around the expenditure of the $2 trillion CARES Act. Some businesses claim they never received any federal relief loans despite being listed in the data, adding even more to the confusion.
But taking the list at face value, the PPP Spy website has some telling information about well-known restaurant and bar operators who received funds in order to keep employees paid. Originally, businesses had to use 75 percent of their PPP funds on employee payroll in order to qualify for loan forgiveness, though that figure was later shifted to 60 percent. In addition, the period to use the funds was extended from eight weeks to 24 weeks. The remaining loan funds can be used for other purposes, such as rent, utilities, and employee healthcare costs.
At the beginning of the pandemic, while many non-restaurant businesses were allowed to continue operations, restaurants and bars were ordered to close their indoor spaces, resulting in the furloughing of kitchen and front-of-house staff. Restaurants attempting to hire back employees to meet the federal loan payback requirements would sometimes find themselves in a tough position, rehiring workers for a job that doesn’t need to be done — like serving tables when dining rooms are closed — to get loan forgiveness.
Hollywood hilltop restaurant Yamashiro, for example, underwent scrutiny for offering maintenance jobs like plumbing and electrical work to former service staff. Yamashiro’s parent group, Ceder Restaurant Group, LLC, received somewhere between $350,000 and $1 million, according to PPP Spy, retaining 120 jobs in the process. The terms of the loan dictate that businesses must place a “good faith” offer for employees to return to work, meaning workers would either have to choose a position for which they might not be qualified, or risk losing their unemployment benefits.
Though it seemed most LA restaurants were shut out of PPP in its first round, it’s clear that many businesses were successful by the second round of funding. Bestia received between $1-2 million, retaining 121 jobs, while Republique also received a loan in that same range while keeping 202 jobs. 71 Above and Takami in Downtown disclosed earlier that it received $1.5 million for 200 employee positions, while Josef Centeno’s restaurant group got somewhere between $150,000-$350,000 for 16 jobs. Vivian Ku’s restaurants Pine & Crane and Joy, held under SK Restaurant Concepts, LLC, got between $350,000 and $1 million for 48 jobs. Bar group Pouring With Heart, which operates places like Imperial Western and Seven Grand in Downtown LA, received between $2-5 million for 250 jobs.
It’s difficult to quantify based on this website how many LA restaurants and bars received over $150,000 in federal relief funds, though more than 5,700 businesses are listed for the city of Los Angeles. Since the LA area includes other municipalities such as Santa Monica and West Hollywood, the number of businesses is likely even higher than that. Anyone can type in search queries for their local restaurant and bars to see some basic information on the federal loans given.
These federal loans were a lifeline for restaurants and bars that were ordered to close their inside spaces during the coronavirus pandemic. Though LA County allowed a brief opening period for dining rooms in June, they’ve seen been closed, with only outdoor dining allowed. Bars had just over a week to reopen before being ordered to close indefinitely in late June. Without these federal funds, many of LA’s most beloved institutions would have closed for good, and indeed many have shuttered completely due to the pandemic.