Nine Otero County restaurants received nearly $622,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funding from Restaurant Revitalization Fund grants.
The Restaurant Revitalization Fund was designed by U.S. Congress as part of this year’s American Rescue Plan Act. About $28.6 billion worth of RRF grants were awarded to restaurants, bars and food trucks throughout the nation. Nearly $500 million was awarded to Colorado alone, according to Sen. John Hickenlooper.
Otero County restaurants receiving funding through the RRF include Copper Kitchen, Eagle’s Lanes & Eagle’s Nest, El Azteca Mexican Restaurant, Felisa’s Mexican Food and Lounge and JJ’s Inc. in La Junta. RPF grants were also given to Frontier Diner in Cheraw, Majestyk, Inc. in Manzanola, Tamarack Grill in Fowler and Rocky Ford’s China Kitchen.
No businesses in Crowley or Bent County received RRF grants.
“RRF grants do not need to be repaid and are more flexible than loans under the Paycheck Protection Program, answering a call from restaurant and bar owners for more versatility with relief funds,” according to a news release from Hickenlooper’s office.
Funding from RRF grants may be used to cover payroll, maintenance, construction, rent and other expenses. Statewide, 1,762 restaurants received funding from the program.
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Three-quarters of restaurant funding in Colorado was awarded to businesses owned by women, minorities or veterans. Grants were given to 191 restaurants in rural Colorado.
“Restaurants are the heart of our communities and many in Colorado were in dire straits during the pandemic,” Hickenlooper said. “These grants will help keep many doors open and restaurant workers on the job.”
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Copper Kitchen, 116 Colorado Ave., was one of five businesses in the city of La Junta to receive RRF funding. While the restaurant has remained a popular breakfast destination for over 35 years, co-owner Adam Thomson said operating the restaurant during the pandemic was “like being a fish out of water.”
“We are a sit-down restaurant and (takeout) would never be profitable for us,” Thomson said. “We did do it, but it really didn’t produce much fruit… we went to 30%, we went to 50%, but we did incorporate some wonderful strategies for sanitizing and things that we learned during the pandemic.”
Copper Kitchen, listed as Ad-Tuck Inc., received over $91,000 worth of funding from the RRF.
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Cheraw’s Frontier Diner, 213 E. Grand Ave., received over $61,000 in funding from the grant. Located in a town of about 250 residents for the last 18 years, Frontier Diner is a family-owned restaurant with two staff members. The restaurant specializes in homemade diner food, including its homemade hamburger patties.
“We are just using the funds to get us through day-to-day,” said Doris Bryant, co-owner of Frontier Diner. “We had a lot of stuff that needed repairs over the last year and a half and so we have had to repair and replace a lot of things.”
Frontier Diner added a patio dining area during the pandemic that will also be assisted by RRF grants, Bryant said.
La Junta Tribune-Democrat reporter James Bartolo can be reached by email at JBartolo@gannett.com