There’s no question that small restaurants were some of the hardest hit businesses during the pandemic, but DoorDash’s COVID-19 relief program is helping make ends meet for Cincinnati restaurants in need.
In January, the delivery service announced an expansion of their $200 million COVID-19 relief program, dubbed “Main Street Strong.” Originally, the idea was to provide $2 million in grants to small restaurants across six cities. It has since turned into $10 million projects aimed at 20 cities and regions across the country, including Cincinnati.
During DoorDash’s expansion, a two-month window allowed for small restaurants to apply and receive relief funding fast, with notification and distribution promised this spring. At this point, more than 30 Cincinnati restaurants either received or are set to receive those $5,000 grants, a helpful resource for local eateries hit with less clientele and revenue during the pandemic.
The money is right on time for Trang Vo, co-owner of the Latin-Asian fusion spot Lalo. She says she found that there wasn’t enough help from the city or federal government to keep Lalo afloat, after losing more than 50 percent of its customer base. Thankfully, she received enough grants to pay rent and keep key employees on staff, in addition to moving locations to a new spot on Court Street downtown. “It was really, really tough,” Vo says. “With us being a minority- and woman-owned business, I was lucky.”
The owners of Northside’s eclectic vegan-focused café Melt Revival also breathed a sigh of relief when it received the extra funds. In fact, co-owner Shannon Blalack says that they worked with DoorDash already to fulfill orders, but that only offering delivery or carryout was still challenging because of the commissions the restaurant pays for deliveries. Still, she explains, they were what kept them afloat. “I will say, they absolutely sustained us for the past year,” she adds. “Without the deliveries, we wouldn’t have made it.”
As sales slowly begin to pick up again to include in-person dining, small restaurants like these will need as much support as possible to meet higher demand.
“We’re busy on weekends again, so I need to have more employees now, more staff,” Vo says. “I plan to use the money for my employees first, keeping them here and helping them survive, too.”
Blalack shares this sentiment. “We’ve been lucky enough to have been able to bring all of our former employees back and still give them as much of a living wage as we can,” she adds.
Those who applied for but didn’t receive a DoorDash grant can still access Hello Alice, a networking and mentorship site focused on getting small restaurants back on their feet.
Restaurants all over Cincinnati still have a long fight ahead, with or without this grant money, and it seems likely that business will come back slowly but surely. “We’ve already seen a big increase just from the weather,” Blalack says. “People are being vaccinated and just starting to come out a little more. … I’m really hoping that things turn around.”