Loans – Lawton restaurant owners look to future | News
Restaurants in the Lawton area have been among the most impacted businesses during the pandemic, with owners facing everything from mask mandates to dealing with limited capacity.
Owners have had to come up with some creative ways to keep their businesses afloat during these unprecedented times. And while two local restaurant owners say 2020 was among the worst of times, they agree there is uncertainty as well as hope for 2021.
Julia Salas, co-owner of Salas Urban Cantina, said she has seen a decline in her sales for 2020, but has made use of food delivery apps and carry-out to boost sales. She said she’s seen an increase of up to 50 percent in carry-out.
Salas said what has hurt her business the most, however, is the loss of what she calls the “Sunday crowd.”
“Before (COVID-19) we would get a nice little rush on Sundays, but now people are just trying to stay home,” Salas said. “The limitations are one thing, but there’s a big sector out there that’s just not getting out. When you look at, for example, the Sunday church crowd is just not there like it used to be because people aren’t going to church like they used to so, they’re not coming out to eat afterwards either.”
Kandi Roeski, co-owner of Buffalo Grove Coffee Company, said she lost much of her catering business and room rentals. She said she has been able to make up some of those losses with the Joe App, a mobile app that allows customers to pre-order menu items. The app, as well as a relaxed atmosphere, has helped Roeski keep her business, which opened in 2018, going.
“We’ve seen a decline overall since the mask mandate,” Roeski said. “Customers will come in and get their food to go but the atmosphere we used to have with so many people hanging out here and the community that we had where they would hang out all day, that seems to have diminished. That has hurt us financially, but it hurts my heart more than anything.”
With the state’s making its way through the vaccination plan, both business owners say they see light at the end of the tunnel.
Salas said she hopes the vaccine will allow people to get out again and people will feel more comfortable in crowds. She said she’s looking forward to the day she can take her restaurant back to full capacity and bring back the live bands.
“I’m hoping things will turn around quickly if the vaccine is as effective as they say and most people will take it,” she said.
Roeski says she hopes the vaccine will help people get out in public again and into her coffee shop.
Salas and Roeski agree they will keep using apps for delivery and providing carry-out, should life ever return to normal.
However, uncertainty for both businesses lies in whether they will be required to pay back loans taken through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
The main stimulus for small businesses in the CARES Act was the PPP. The $659 billion funded under the Small Business Administration (S(BA))—Business Loans Program Account was intended to provide loans to businesses to guarantee eight weeks of payroll and other costs to help those businesses remain viable and allow their workers to pay their bills. Under certain guidelines, those loans were forgivable.
All or part of the loan received under PPP could be forgiven provided the business kept all full-time equivalent employees on payroll — or rehire them within 24 weeks of receiving the loan. Payroll costs must be 60 percent or more of the amount forgiven. Only 40 percent of the amount forgiven can be used on non-payroll expenses.
The loans kept either business from laying off their workers, now they’re just waiting to see if they qualify for loan forgiveness.
“There was a lot of back and forth in the beginning and I was very concerned,” Salas said. “Luckily, it seems that common sense has prevailed and most of the wrinkles have been ironed out, including the loans not being taxable, which was a big issue for small businesses like mine. I’m hopeful it will work out.”