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Each week, WFAE's "Morning Edition" hosts get a rundown of the biggest business and development stories from The Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter.

More COVID Relief Is Coming To Some Mecklenburg County Restaurants And Bars

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In Mecklenburg County, 421 restaurants and bars are getting COVID-19 relief through the federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund. About 30 places will get more than $1 million, according to the Small Business Administration. The grants are in addition to money that some restaurants got earlier, as part of the federal Paycheck Protection Program. For more, WFAE's "Morning Edition" host Marshall Terry talks with Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter for our segment BizWorthy.

Marshall Terry: So, Tony, what are some of the places getting over $1 million?

Tony Mecia: Well, there are more than 30 of them there, there are about 33, Marshall. Some of the more recognizable names, the company receiving the most is called Jax LLC. It operates Golden Corral franchises. It got $10 million — that's the biggest in Mecklenburg County. Probably no surprise that buffets sort of topped the list.

But it's really a quite a diverse list of restaurants, a lot of caterers. You had Amelie's French Bakery on there, Queen Park Social in the so-called LoSo neighborhood. You have RedEye Diner in the Epicentre, RiRa Irish Pub, China Buffet. We could go on and on, but it's a pretty diverse list of restaurants, although it did seem that some of the biggest recipients tended to be larger restaurant groups, caterers and restaurants in uptown.

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Small Business Administration, The Charlotte Ledger research
Thirty-three Mecklenburg County businesses involved in food and beverage service were approved by grants of more than $1 million by the Small Business Administration as part of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. Only about one-third of applicants to the program nationally were approved for funding to help offset COVID-19 revenue losses.

Terry: What can we infer from how much a place will receive? Is it an indicator of how much loss they suffered over the past year?

Mecia: It is. These are grants that are designed to try to make these restaurants whole. It gives them the difference between what they took in in 2019 and what they took in in 2020. So, any drop-off in sales, this is meant to compensate for that. They subtract out any other COVID relief that they would have gotten, but it's basically intended to make them whole.

Now the problem is that this program, this federal program, ran out of money. So it didn't really fully fund all the restaurants that needed the money, that were out money. It was just really a small fraction of those, about a little over 400 in Mecklenburg County. Mecklenburg County, by the way, has about 3,700 restaurants and food stalls, according to the county.

Now, in other places, Marshall, I should mention that this has been controversial. In Seattle, for example, there were restaurants that were shut out of the program that were complaining that, "Oh, these big restaurant groups got all the money" or the money went to restaurants that didn't even try to stay open during the pandemic. Also in Washington, one of the papers up there reported that one of the recipients that received about $4 million was a strip club. I mean, these are really designed for restaurants that make most of their money off of food and beverages.

Terry: Do restaurants and bars really need this money? I mean, aren't people going back to eating out like they used to before the pandemic?

Mecia: They are. You know, the data shows that people are eating out in Charlotte about the same numbers as they were two years ago in July 2019. That's data from OpenTable, which is the software that a lot of restaurants used for for seating. And it shows that we're about where we were a couple of years ago.

But, you know, if you talk to restaurants, they'll say, listen, we're still having a lot of problems here. Some of them might owe money for rent from last year. They might owe money to other vendors and suppliers when they didn't really have as much money coming in. And of course, now they're also struggling, as we've talked about, Marshall, with the shortage of workers, shortages of supplies, of liquor. So it's a lot to manage.

They're feeling upward pressure on costs, but they can't always just increase the cost of the food that they're serving. Obviously, customers don't, in many cases, want to pay more. So they still describe themselves and their industry as having some trouble at the moment.

Terry: On to some development news now. An apartment building is planned for a Fourth Ward in uptown Charlotte. What can you tell us about it?

Mecia: A company called the Daniel Corporation wants to build apartments in about a five- to seven-story building at Graham and 7th streets. This is a site where right now there's a surface parking lot. There's a vacant storefront that used to be a bakery, and a sort of old car repair place. And so they're proposing apartments there.

It's a little bit tricky because it is in the historic district, which requires additional sign-offs. You have to make sure that it's fitting with the character of the neighborhood. This is a neighborhood, older neighborhood, single-family homes, townhouses, not a whole lot of big buildings right there. The VUE, which is a huge apartment tower, is several blocks away. But it's an area of uptown that's fairly residential without a lot of high rises. Some residents in the area are concerned, as they often are, with new developments nearby about what's the effect going to be on parking and traffic, that sort of thing.

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Google Street View
The Myers Park Country Club is seen in an undated photo.

Terry: Finally, you've got an update on a story that you've been following the past several months, a lawsuit filed against Myers Park Country Club by one of its members. So what's going on?

Mecia: So the latest is, you'll recall, Marshall, that a member of Myers Park Country Club had sued the club. He was opposed to this renovation that the club is doing and was seeking some financial records to sort of get to the bottom of how the club decided to do this renovation that would expand the men's-only area into a co-ed area. It's been the source of some controversy at the club for a number of months.

According to court documents that were filed this month, the club suspended a different member, Ed Peacock. He served on the county commission in the late '70s. He's the father of Edwin Peacock, who was a former City Council member more recently and had run for mayor. Anyway, they suspended Ed Peacock because he sent an email blast to the club membership questioning the renovation plan. And so the club said this is against our rules and they suspended him for a month, according to court documents.

Now, I asked the club's lawyer about that and he said that they're not going to air any dirty laundry. They're not going to discuss internal club business. But certainly ongoing controversy there at Myers Park Country Club. Although I will say Marshall, the renovation looks to be moving forward. Demolition started this month.

Terry: All right, Tony, thank you.

Mecia: Thanks, Marshall.

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