When the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund was signed into law as part of the American Rescue Plan in March 2021, it seemed like restaurants, bleeding money from regulatory stops-and-starts since the beginning of the pandemic, would finally get the aid they needed. But some New Orleans recipients of top-dollar funding don’t appear, on their face, to be the entities the program intended to support — broadly defined as businesses where the public or patrons assemble for the primary purpose of being served food or drink.
The Small Business Administration has released the list of the more than 100,000 food and beverage businesses that were approved for grants through the program. In New Orleans, notable grant approvals went to RCI Entertainment and American Restaurant Inc., the companies behind Rick’s Cabaret and Penthouse Club, which received $5 million each. Exotic dance venues sued and won eligibility for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) earlier this year, thus granting them access to the more recent RRF grants.
The highest eligible amount — $10 million — was awarded to just one restaurant group: QED Hospitality, the company behind the restaurants and bars in the Ponchartrain Hotel. Next up is the LLC behind Cafe du Monde, HN Fernandez, at $8.2 million, followed by Politan Group, the parent company of St. Roch Market, at $7.8 million. Pat O’Brien’s and the Commander’s family of restaurants each received $5 million — no huge surprise there, as it’s become more clear over time that larger companies have an easier time getting awarded the highest grants — and Antoine’s and Arnaud’s aren’t far behind with $4.4 and $4.3 million, respectively.
10 Largest Grants Awarded to New Orleans Businesses
- QED Hospitality (Jack Rose, Bayou Bar, Hot Tin) — $10 million
- HN Fernandez (Cafe du Monde) — $8.2m
- Politan Group (St. Roch Market) — $7.8m
- Pat O’ Brien’s — $5m
- RCI Entertainment (Rick’s Cabaret) — $5m
- American Restaurant Inc. (Penthouse Club) — $5m
- Commander’s Palace — $5m
- Antoine’s — $4.4m
- Arnaud’s — $4.3m
- Mulate’s — $4.1m
When it launched, the SBA restaurant relief program was meant to prioritize businesses owned by veterans, women, and marginalized groups, before white business owners began to file lawsuits, prompting the SBA to halt payments to priority applicants. When the program shut down at the end of June due to funds being depleted, those minority-owned businesses that had been approved were left out to dry.
New Orleans’s top 10 list reflects that the goal of prioritizing businesses owned by marginalized groups was indeed abandoned, as none are owned by veterans, women, or people of color. According to an analysis by New Orleans food writer Todd Price, 47 percent of the grants in New Orleans went to businesses owned by white men who have never served in the military. It’s a common theme reflected throughout the country — like in Portland, where a majority of grant approvals went to white-owned companies and catering businesses. Still, it seems significant that two of the largest Restaurant Relief Grant recipients in New Orleans went to entertainment venues, rather than that support coming from the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program, a fund intended for venues, among other entities.
Now, the Independent Restaurant Coalition, the industry group that helped spearhead the campaign for funding, is working to get it replenished and has called on the SBA to release the approved grant information. “We hope the SBA answers our questions about how many individuals awarded grants in the priority period had their awards revoked. Those businesses must be made whole, as should every restaurant and bar impacted by this pandemic,” said Erika Polmar, the IRC’s executive director. Readers can find the full list of grant recipients via this Business Journal database.