Restaurant and business owners hope latest stimulus helps

Updated: Mar. 11, 2021 at 4:44 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Many restaurants closed permanently while others have dealt with huge income losses due to the pandemic.

But now some say a Covid relief bill just approved in Congress could be the key to a sound future.

For 35 years Frank Brigtsen’s place has been a mainstay in Riverbend, but the last year has been the toughest.

“Last year, 2020, our revenue was down 50 percent,” said Brigtsen.

He shut down when he had to and reopened at 25 percent capacity, but even while taking precautions he caught the coronavirus after getting his first Moderna vaccine shot last month.

“I’m on day seven of my Covid quarantine and I’ve had no major symptoms, which is a miracle,” he said.

Brigtsten, a diabetic, says he’s only suffered mild headaches.

As he continues his recovery, there is welcome news from Congress which approved a $1.9 trillion stimulus package that includes $29 billion for restaurants like his.

“I am so thankful that Congress recognized how important small businesses are and how important restaurants are to the culture and economy,” said Brigtsen.

“For the New Orleans area and for the rest of us guys any kind of help we can get will help us get back up to where we were before,” said Brigtsen.

Even with restaurant business slumping, many continue to pay their portion of a tax that goes into the Morial Convention Center and some say they should get a break.

“Maybe there should be some relief or give back,” Brigtsen said.

But the convention center says it’s facing challenges of its own. It’s surplus funds have dwindled since it paid $50 million paid to the city in the last two years.

And as for reserves built up from the quarter-cent citywide food and beverage tax for the convention center...

“It’s less than one percent and it’s pledged to previous debt,” said Morial Convention Center Director Michael Sawaya.

The convention center now tries to reimagine itself to deal with an anticipated comeback in a post-Covid convention world.

“We already built two outdoor spaces that can handle up to 1000 each and they open up onto the linear park,” said Sawaya.

Restaurant owner Frank Brigtsten says he’s come to appreciate the business the convention center can bring and with the help of new stimulus money, he’s hoping for brighter days ahead.

“This could bring a couple hundred thousand dollars for Brigtsen’s Inc.,” Brigtsen said.

Money which he says will be useful in rehiring nearly 20 employees who depend on the restaurant to live.

Under the newly passed bill, about a fifth of the money will be allocated to restaurants who had 2019 revenues of less than $500,000.

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