By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published Apr 20, 2022 at 11:01 AM

Can you spare a few moments to call Senators Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson this week? If you can, it could make a huge difference for local restaurants.

Next week our Wisconsin representatives will join their Senate colleagues to cast their votes on an extremely important piece of legislation. In fact, this legislation will determine – for the last time – whether restaurants will receive much needed Federal aid to alleviate the losses they sustained during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here's the skinny

Most of you likely know about the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), a $28.6 billion grant program for struggling restaurants and bars that President Biden signed into law in 2021 as part of the American Rescue Plan. You likely also know that 300,000 restaurants and bars applied for RRF grants in 2021, but only about one in three applicants received relief. 

On April 7, the House of Representatives passed legislation which would allocate $42 billion to replenish that Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) and provide $13 billion for other businesses impacted by the pandemic. 

But if the Senate doesn’t support the house and choose to refill the fund, it could mean that more restaurants around the nation will be forced to close their doors for good.

What should you say?

Here is everything you need to contact both Senator Baldwin and Johnson. Feel free to leave messages with their staff at both their Washington D.C. and local offices.

Senator Tammy Baldwin:
Washington, D.C. office: (202) 224-5653
Madison office: (608) 264-5338

Senator Ron Johnson:
Washington, D.C. office: (202) 224-5323
Milwaukee office: (414) 276-7282
Madison office: (608) 240-9629

The following script using data from the Independent Restaurant Coalition is a powerful tool you can use when you call.

Hello, my name is [YOUR NAME] and I live in [CITY, STATE]. I'm urging you to support additional relief for independent restaurants by voting yes to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF).

Although 5,871 Wisconsin restaurants applied for over $994 million in relief, only 2,095 small businesses received funding from the initial RRF program and now many of these small businesses risk closing permanently. 

The industry needs relief now and we are waiting for the Senate to follow the House’s lead by passing this legislation.

The future of Wisconsin’s 12,796 restaurants and bars depend on refilling the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

Be sure to include details about your own connection to restaurants, especially if you own a restaurant or bar or work at one, and how the pandemic has impacted you. Personal details like this matter and can help persuade legislators!

You can also share the following talking points.

  • Restaurant owners and workers have been fighting for over two years to stay afloat during the unpredictable challenges of COVID-19.
  • More than 90,000 restaurants and bars around the country have closed during the pandemic, and thousands more are hanging on by a thread, taking out loans and selling personal assets just to keep their businesses afloat.
  • The Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) in 2021 helped keep 101,000 independent restaurants and bars open.
  • But nearly 200,000 businesses did not receive funding (including 3,776 in Wisconsin). And now four out of five of these restaurants are at risk of closing forever.
  • There is one solution to all these problems: prioritizing urgent relief for restaurants and voting to replenish the RRF.

Save your favorite spots

Restaurants like Amilinda were among those who were approved for RRF funding in 2021, but which had their grant approvals rescinded.

Owner Greg León says that he was told last May that he was approved for $285,000 (the amount of money he says the restaurant lost during the pandemic). However, he was among many restaurants who – due to a lawsuit filed which sought to prevent the prioritization of funding for women, racial minorities and veterans – never received the funds that were promised.  

“So many of us are still carrying debt from 2020,” Leon says, noting that it’s preventing Amilinda from operating at full steam. “Getting relief from the government would allow us to focus on the future. We could hire the additional staff that we need. We could offer better compensation for our longtime staff and we could expand our hours of operation. Ultimately, we could all breathe a sigh of relief."

Chef Dan Jacobs, co-owner of DanDan, EsterEv and Fool’s Errand says that Fool’s Errand wouldn’t be open right now if it weren’t for an RRF grant.

“We were able to reopen a restaurant in a vacant space, provide jobs for 20-plus people and create a restaurant that I think benefits the dining scene,” he says. “We could never have done that without the grant.”

Jacobs says that, without aid, there will be many small businesses that will have to close, particularly the woman-, minority- and veteran-owned businesses who didn’t get the grants they applied for in 2021.

“Being a restaurant owner during the last five years has been far more difficult than it was when I first started in restaurants,” Jacobs says. “Some of it is the state of inflation. It’s the level of education we’ve had to pass along to our guests. It’s the higher cost of our rent. And right now, it’s all compounded by staffing issues.”

“If people don’t support their favorite restaurants now,” he says, “some of those restaurants won’t be around later."

Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.