Of all the industries and businesses negatively impacted by the pandemic in 2020, the hospitality sector was hit most of all. The restaurants that survived continue to deal with a host of challenges now that society is slowly inching its way back to something reminiscent of pre-Covid life. The “Backing Historic Small Restaurants” initiative, a grant program created by American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, was designed to help preserve culturally significant restaurants across America as they navigate the “new normal” and recover financially.
“The National Trust will work with American Express to identify historic small restaurants that need support and will award 25 grants of $40,000—totaling $1 million—funded by American Express and administered by the National Trust,” says Jacob Wilson, Manager of Corporate Affairs and Communications at American Express. The final grantees will be chosen by the National Trust, with input from American Express and a chef advisory committee organized by Resy. That committee includes chefs Deborah VanTrece, Edouardo Jordan, and Kwame Onwuachi. “Once the 25 have been selected,” adds Wilson, “the funds will be provided directly to the restaurant owners via the Trust.”
The grant is for historic restaurants that have experienced significant financial hardship due to the pandemic and have contributed to a neighborhood’s history and/or the identity of a specific community or neighborhood for at least of 25 years. The criteria requires them to be a small or independently-owned restaurant located in a historic building and/or historic neighborhood. Businesses owned by underrepresented groups, including People of Color and women, who were disproportionally affected by the pandemic, will be given preference, and small restaurants that have not already acquired significant COVID-19-related aid will be given priority as well.
Through this new program, small, historic restaurant owners will have the chance to improve, upgrade, and preserve their physical spaces as well as online businesses and reduce current operating expenses. Restaurants can restore the exteriors and facades of their historic buildings, increase outdoor dining, upgrade their takeout and online ordering systems, or use the funds to develop a more robust online presence.
“For generations, our nation’s oldest and most historic small restaurants have been safe spaces for customers to share meals, ideas, and their culture. They are at the heart of our neighborhoods, serve our communities, and help advance cultural and social change for those who live there,” explains Wilson. “Many have stood the test of time, but the pandemic has tested them in ways they could have never imagined. The ‘Backing Historic Small Restaurants’ program will help preserve these spaces not only for their legacy, but also for their earned place in our nation’s future.”
Joining American Express to support these historic small restaurants are several partners, including but not limited to AT&T Business, Dell Technologies, Resy (a hospitality technology platform that is part of the American Express family) and Main Street America. These partners will contribute to each of the 25 historic small restaurants in ways that relate to their industries.
AT&T Business and Dell Technologies will each offer up to $5,000 to the grantees (which collectively totals up to $250,000,000) to use for products and services designed for digital upgrades. Resy will offer free use of its restaurant management software, ResyOS, for one year to streamline costs and enhance restaurant operations. Meanwhile, through a series of three training webinars and Q&A "Ask the Expert" opportunities with UrbanMain Marketing Specialists, Main Street America will provide specialized technical assistance on small business marketing strategy.
To coincide with National Preservation Month, the 25 grantees of the “Backing Historic Small Restaurants” program will be announced this May.