To say the past year has been tough for restaurant owner Frank Tsiamtsiouris is an understatement.
“It looked like it was going to be bad, but I didn’t know it was going to be this bad. This is horrible,“ Tsiamtsiouris said.
Business at his Metro Diner on the Upper West Side and at two other restaurants is down 75%. He's had to lay off 30 employees, and close a fourth site. He’s never had a year like this in his 50 years in the business.
“This restaurant business is a very hard business, but losing a place when you’re trying to do your best was the most horrible thing I had to do," Tsiamtsiouris said.
Now, for the first time during the pandemic, the federal government will provide specific relief for restaurant and bar owners. The new COVID-19 relief bill includes $28.6 billion for the industry. Restauranteurs have pleaded for help for months. Thousands in the city already have gone out of business, and more are on the brink.
“They’ve been exhausting their personal savings trying to keep the place open, trying to keep some people employed. We employ people of all walks of life and they have families, they have kids to feed and rent to pay,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance.
Grants will be based on the difference between a restaurant’s 2019 and 2020 revenues, and can be used to help pay for rent, payroll, supplies, mortgages and vendors. Only owners with up to 20 locations are eligible.
Tsiamtsiouris will apply for a grant to help pay for his back rent.
“It’s a good thing this program is coming along, and it’s coming at a very crucial time, especially for New York. I know a lot of people out there that owe at least 10 months worth of rent,” he said.
Tsiamtsiouris says this assistance won’t be a cure all, that customer traffic will need to increase for his business to survive. But for the first time in the pandemic, he is hopeful for the future and ready to put this tough year behind him.
“I’ve worked harder this year than I worked when I first started this business, and that was very hard then,” he said.