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Tennessee Restaurants Feel The Effect As Federal Government Cancels Promised Grants

Kevin Willis

The federal government is rescinding thousands of payments promised to struggling restaurants.

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund was meant to provide pandemic relief. Initially, the program offered a 21-day exclusivity period for women, military veterans and “socially and economically disadvantaged individuals” to apply first. But a series of lawsuits halted the program, accusing it of being unfair because it prioritizes businesses owned by women and people of color.

One of the lawsuits was filed in the Eastern District of Tennessee by Antonio Vitolo, the owner of Jake’s Bar and Grill in Harriman, Tenn., who said he was discriminated against because he is a white male. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit agreed.

In light of the court rulings, nearly 3,000 applicants had their grants revoked.

The Small Business Administration told WPLN News it is “committed to doing everything we can to support disadvantaged businesses in getting the help they need to recover from this historic pandemic.”

Sara Way, the owner of Yeast Nashville, is one of the restaurants that has unexpectedly lost relief. She was supposed to receive more than $284,000. Way planned to use that money to hire more staff, raise her employee’s wages and bring back a full menu.

“We’ve already been through so much,” Way said. “And to have that pulled out from under us when we were already told we were going to get it, it’s devastating.”

The federal agency told Way that her application may be approved if Congress provides more money — though there’s no guarantee.