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San Mateo County Establishes $2.3M Relief Fund for Restaurants, Wineries, Breweries

Outdoor dining in San Mateo County.
NBC Bay Area

San Mateo County's Board of Supervisors this week allocated $1 million towards a $2.384 million relief fund for restaurants, breweries and wineries.

Qualifying restaurants could receive grants of up to $10,000 each to offset revenue losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic and continue operations. The application window is set to open mid-February.

At Tuesday's meeting, the supervisors voted unanimously to establish the fund, allocating $1 million of the county's general funds towards it. Another $1 million came from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and $384,000 came from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

The ordinance was co-sponsored by Supervisors Warren Slocum and Don Horsley. Horsley said that some businesses -- especially breweries and wineries -- are struggling to adapt during the pandemic.

"For example, if you look at the industrial section of San Carlos that's really unincorporated, there's a number of wineries and breweries. They really have not been able to adjust because they don't have sidewalks. They don't have the ability to have little parklets," Horsley said at Tuesday's meeting. "So many of these organizations, these small businesses, have not been able to pivot on their business. And they really are the backbone of our communities," Horsley said.

Starting mid-February, restaurants, breweries and wineries providing dining or take-out services, and which have a brick-and-mortar location within the county, would be eligible to apply on the San Mateo County Strong website. Pop-ups, food trucks and distilleries are not eligible.

A brewery, for the purpose of the program, is defined as a business with an active small beer manufacturer (Type 23) license from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Wineries must have an active wine grower (Type 2) license.

Moreover, applicants that previously received assistance from the county -- through the small business grant program, for example -- would not be eligible for grants under the new program.

The $1 million from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative would be used specifically for restaurants in East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Redwood City, Palo Alto, unincorporated Menlo Park and unincorporated North Fair Oaks. The rest of the fund will be used to benefit restaurants in other areas in the county.

Funding is not on a first-come first-service basis; instead, all applications will be considered equally and selected from a pool of other establishments in their area.

The program will be administered by the San Mateo Credit Union (SMCU) Community Fund, through an agreement with the county capped at $50,000. The original resolution states that applicants must be providing "takeout food service or sale of food- or beverage-related goods" at the time of applying.

However, Myles Tucker, an analyst with the County Manager's Office, said at Tuesday's meeting that the ordinance would be amended so that applicants providing takeout or dine-in services would be eligible. This would cover establishments that may have reopened for outdoor dining when stay-at-home orders were lifted Monday.

Discussions about establishing the fund began in December between the San Mateo County Economic Development Association (SAMCEDA), Chamber San Mateo County, the SMCU Community Fund and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. SAMCEDA's President and CEO Rosanne Foust thanked the Board for their continued support of small businesses.

"I can personally tell you that we have pushed and pushed and pushed to encourage folks to dine local," Foust said. "Our small restaurants, breweries and wineries are the lifeblood of our community."

South City Ciderworks, one of 49 businesses in the county with an active wine grower license, distributes ciders to restaurants and businesses from its San Bruno facility. They've benefitted from county grants in the past and their team of four has been working hard to stay afloat during the pandemic.

The company's Co-Chief and Overseer of Order Jenn Root Martell said that 2020 was a brutal year, as they saw a 60% decrease in sales. The start of 2021 has also been difficult, due to stay-at-home orders, holiday bills and the "dry January" concept -- when people make resolutions to drink less or "detox" from the holidays.

"January was really rough," Martell said. "I think everyone in the industry is really, really struggling right now."

While the state's move to end stay-at-home orders will help boost business, Martell knows things won't be back to normal for a while.

"Maybe the fall will have some sort of bounce back but I think people should still be really cautious," Martell said. "Unfortunately, that means not opening up completely. So, I think we still have a long road ahead of us."

Meanwhile, she urged people to support small, local businesses. "We're all in this and we're all struggling," Martell said. "We want to make sure everyone's still around by the time things open up again. Too many businesses have folded with this and it's just heartbreaking."

For a full list of eligibility requirements and information about the relief fund, visit the county's staff report here. A press release about the grant is available here.

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