Restaurant rescue

Hamburg. The local non-profit Heart to Harvest is launching a new initiative designed to help restaurants reopen through a grant fund open to independent owners in the New Jersey and New York Metro area.

27 Apr 2020 | 08:31

Small restaurant owners face an uncertain future with no guarantees that they'll ever be able to open their doors again. Government programs like PPP are not addressing what restaurants need to reopen.

That's why local non-profit Heart to Harvest is launching the Restaurant Rescue Fund, a new initiative designed to help restaurants reopen through a grant fund open to independent restaurant owners in the New Jersey and New York Metro area.

With most funds dedicated to raising money for hourly employees and the SBA/PPP failing to provide real financial relief, owners are still struggling for a lifeline and we are in danger of losing restaurants that are the heartbeat of our communities and neighborhoods.

The need is dire across the country as shown by the James Beard Foundation shutting down applications mere hours after they opened, but this local non-profit that started in support of New Jersey farms, is hoping to help restaurants in the hardest hit region reopen.

Beginning in 2018

Heart to Harvest was founded in 2018 in New Jersey as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization to help local farmers throughout the region who were under threat of development. With the onset of the pandemic, the board decided to widen its mission to launch the Restaurant Rescue Fund and raise substantial funds to be distributed as grants directly to restaurateurs looking to reopen (when it’s safe to do so).

Heart to Harvest also hopes to provide additional assistance with vendor and landlord negotiations, staffing and operational improvements owners can make in order to ensure a restaurant stays open after reopening.

Enter Robby Younes

Heart to Harvest Chairman Robby Younes, who has spent 22 years in the hospitality industry and is the C.O.O. of Crystal Springs Resort in Hamburg, spearheads the effort along with a board of advisors composed of business and hospitality leaders. Younes is the founder of the annual New Jersey Wine & Food Festival which has worked to showcase chefs from New Jersey and New York over the past 11 years and has welcomed industry luminaries like Jose Andres, Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, David Kinch, Gabriel Kreuther, David Bouley and more. (The Festival was supposed to take place May 1-3 this year and has been postponed indefinitely.)

The board is still in formation but will include Markus Draxler, CEO of Solex Catsmo, a fine food purveyor, and a veteran of Daniel Boulud’s Dinex Group. Like many restaurant owners and hospitality professionals, both Younes and Draxler are immigrants (from Lebanon and Austria respectively).

Here’s how the fund will work:

Heart to Harvest is starting to collect data from restaurant owners looking to reopen: https://www.hearttoharvest.org/restaurateurs

- Fund raising will be ongoing from individuals and corporations who can donate here: https://secure.donationpay.org/hearttoharvest/

- On May 15 restaurateurs can start applying for the fund. Applications will be accepted for 14 days. (The fund is not first come, first served.)

- To qualify, owners must operate no more than 5 restaurants total across the US and the grants will only be for locations in New Jersey and New York Metro Area that had been open as of March 1, 2020. Priority will be given to restaurants that work with small farms.

- An independent board will review the applications and vet them against a vigorous set of business metrics that will be publicly available on the website before May 15th.

- Grants will be issued as government mandates for restaurant closures are lifted.