So, who really benefited from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund?

The SBA released a data set detailing approval dates, names, and dollars

Are we better off knowing? I don’t know.

The SBA responded to the Independent Restaurant Coalition’s FOIA request with a data set detailing the recipients of the grant money. I would’ve also like to see the information about those whose grants were rescinded because of the priority group kerfuffle and subsequent injunction, but I’ll take what we can get. (Weirdly enough, the original link to the data set on sba.gov is now posting a 404 error EDIT: It’s back up; looks like they made some updates to the file with it being marked as “Last updated 7/12”).

Of the 370 000+ applications received, less than a third (101 004) were funded. The median award was $125 631, and the average was $282 909. The average being at least $150 000 higher than the median brings me to the next point, which is 5% of applicants received more than $1M+. But this group of 5% ended up totaling 39% of the total $28.6B fund. It’s not to say that a lot the businesses receiving more than $1M didn’t deserve it—I’m sure many do, but I do have some thoughts below on some of those who received such a lump sum.

Shall we begin?

Disclosure: I filed the applications for the businesses that I am involved with and received funds for all of them. The numbers are readily available in the data set and the business entity names are fairly self-identifying.

Where did the money go?

Mapping out the money by state, we can see that the top recipients were: California ($5.7B), New York ($3.7B), Texas ($1.7B), Illinois ($1.4B), and Florida ($1.3B). Approximately 60%–70% of the funds received in these states were by those that self-certified as minority-, women-, or veteran-owned (priority groups).

If we take a look at the number of total grant recipients who belonged in one of these categories, we can observe the following (and yes, groups can overlap; I didn’t review the data for exclusivity):

  • 44% of applicants stated they were women-owned, receiving a total of $10.2B in aid, which is only 35% of the total grant money available

  • 34% of applicants stated that they were minority-owned businesses and/or in economically disadvantaged areas, receiving $9B in aid, which hovers at 31.5% of the total grant money available

  • 6% of applicants stated they were veterans, receiving a total of $1.7B in aid, which is ~6% of the total grant money available

It becomes apparent that not all groups are created equal, with the largest disparity between number of women-owned businesses being approved for funds vs. not being awarded a comparable amount in grant money. Minority-owned and economically disadvantaged located businesses do better in terms of closing that difference, but it is only with veteran-owned businesses that we finally see a 1:1 ratio. While it’s difficult to scrutinize this large delta without reviewing the applications and amounts requested vs. granted, I can’t help but wonder where a lot of the money ended up going.

10% of grant recipients belonged to a franchise business

To dive deeper into the numbers, we see that franchisees took home ~$2.65B of the possible $28.6B available, which is comparable to the 10% total applicants who noted themselves as a franchisee. And of those grant recipients, the top ten franchise applicants received approximately $1B in grant funds.

Even more striking about those top ten franchises? Subway franchisees dwarf the number of applications compared to other franchises (McDonald’s didn’t even crack 100 franchisee applications) by a ratio of 7:1 with the next closest franchise (Dunkin’ and Dunkin/Baskin Robbins co-brand).

Subway

  • 2868 applications granted

  • 72% self-certified as belonging to one of the priority groups

  • $362M distributed to Subway franchisees

Dunkin’ Donuts (and Baskin Robbins co-brand)

  • 404 applications granted

  • 78% self-certified as belonging to one of the priority groups

  • $90M distributed to Dunkin’ franchisees

IHOP

  • 295 applications granted

  • 76% self-certified as belonging to one of the priority groups

  • $118M distributed to IHOP franchisees

Kona Ice

  • 207 applications granted

  • 61% self-certified as belonging to one of the priority groups

  • $15.5M distributed to Kona Ice franchisees

Menchie’s

  • 147 applications granted

  • 66% self-certified as belonging to one of the priority groups

  • $18.5M distributed to Menchie’s franchisees

Denny’s

  • 137 applications granted

  • 64% self-certified as belonging to one of the priority groups

  • $79M distributed to Denny’s franchisees

Jimmy John’s

  • 131 applications granted

  • 44% self-certified as belonging to one of the priority groups

  • $29B distributed to Jimmy John’s franchisees

Golden Corral

  • 125 applications granted

  • 64% self-certified as belonging to one of the priority groups

  • $277M distributed to Golden Corral franchisees

Charleys Philly Steaks

  • 112 applications granted

  • 92% self-certified as belonging to one of the priority groups

  • $32M distributed to Charleys Philly Steaks franchisees

Moe’s Southwest Grill

  • 108 applications granted

  • 73% self-certified as belonging to one of the priority groups

  • $22M distributed to Moe’s Southwest Grill franchisees

Even though there is an “owner” at the end of the day for a franchise business, they still have had quite the leg up in comparison to their local small business siblings. After all, franchisees benefit by building off of the established brand and receiving the coverage of continued regional and national advertising campaigns.

And with the high number of approved applicants for Subway franchisees, I’d venture a guess that the parent corporations also provided support in varying degrees for RRF applications. To contextualize the numbers, the sandwich giant had 2868 approved folks, which represents over 10% of all U.S. Subway franchise businesses (per 2019 data), whereas McDonald’s only saw 67 approved applications out its 13 175 U.S. franchise locations (per 2020 data). Smaller chains, such as Kona Ice and Menchie’s saw a large number of their franchisees receive grants as well, 16% (out of 1279 locations) and 41% (out of 358 locations) respectively, which leads me to believe that some parent companies were more willing than others to lend a hand in guiding applicants through the process.

Meanwhile in NYC…

An interesting data point this information release is the businesses that benefited the most after the injunction. What I ended up finding was that the June approvals included quite a few fine dining establishments, large caterers and venues, small business chains, and hotels (and a JFK Dunkin’ Donuts that received $10M). If it wasn’t made clear before the pandemic, it should be noted now: these businesses that command such capital and cachet are seldom operated by or have a majority shareholder that is a minority, woman, or a veteran.

To understand how much was at stake here by moving all the priority groups to the very back of the line, for the June recipients that received over $1M in grant funds, it totaled to $864M with some recognizable names:

  • Greenwich Hotel, $5M (approved June 4)

  • The William Vale, $5M (approved (June 25)

  • Le Bernadin, $5M (approved June 4)

  • Bowery Hotel, $5M (approved June 4)

  • Gabriel Kreuther, $4.86M (approved June 25)

  • Daily Provisions, $2.975M (approved June 4)

Granted, everyone applied at the same time in early May, but these amounts are also based on gross receipts where you can see how well-to-do these businesses are to begin with (and this does not count any licensing or other deals/businesses that the individuals may have). Where the Fund was meant to help the mom-and-pop shops, the injunction ended up dealing quite the blow and reinforced the message of who really matters in this ecosystem—those who are already at the top.

Further Reading

Will New York permanently cap delivery platform commission fees?

San Francisco was the first on June 22—will New York City follow suit?

San Francisco made big waves last month when its Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pass a permanent 15% fee cap, thereby limiting the amount that delivery platforms can charge restaurants. In a give-and-take approach, the legislation does not limit delivery platforms from charging restaurants additional fees for “marketing” and “additional services”—which gives way to DoorDash’s partnership plans.

The commission limits are not new, as many large cities—including New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Portland—enacted laws limiting commission fees, citing the economic devastation brought on by the pandemic. However, these caps were limited in scope by the duration of the pandemic (and in NYC’s case, the duration of the pandemic plus 90 days after being able to resume 100% indoor dining). And with states lifting restrictions, there is a tremendous level of anxiety from businesses about what it means going forward. While delivery platforms saw record growth in 2020, restaurants and bars across the country have been left in the lurch—and holding onto massive debt—particularly with the Restaurant Revitalization Fund fully depleted. Thus, it becomes a no brainer, from my perspective, that cities need to review their local ordinances before they expire, and greatly affect vulnerable and recovering businesses.

Permanent fee caps in New York

Introduced and heard by the Committee on Small Business just before the long weekend, NYC Council Members Francisco Moya and Mark Gjonaj shared Int 2359-2021, which seeks to lift the disaster restriction on Local Law 2020/088. In addition to this amendment, three others were proposed and reviewed on July 1st by the Committee:

  • Int 2333: as it pertains to the prohibition of delivery services arranging and listing food service establishments without their consent

  • Int 2335: as it pertains to requiring transparency in the telephone numbers for food establishments listed by delivery services

  • Int 2356: as it pertains to the prohibition of delivery services charging food establishment businesses for calls that do not result in a transaction

With regards to Int 2359-2021, Council Members Moya and Gjonaj make few changes to the original Local Law. The key differences are as follows:

  • Statements regarding the Local Law only being in effect during declared emergencies are omitted

  • Addition of the word “transaction” as it relates to credit card, so that it no longer just reads “credit card fee”, but rather, “credit card transaction fee”. In including the word “transaction”, delivery platforms are no longer able to massage the definition on what constitutes as such a fee into something more

    • Keep in mind that 2(b) states that any additional service, apart from the delivery fee, cannot exceed 5% (for a total maximum charge of 20% to restaurants), but credit card transaction fees were not included in that 5%. Thus, having a loosely phrased “credit card fee” posed as a possible loophole that delivery platforms could exploit should they wish to

    • To bolster 2(b), a definition of credit cards has been added as well

Should this amendment pass and signed into law, it would take immediate effect. At the moment, the amendment’s status is noted as “Laid in Committee”. This term means that floor action action will be postponed to the next legislative day. In other words, the vote has not yet taken place, but we’ve already had at least one hearing on the matter. Unfortunately, though, it can take some time before we see a vote. Take this example, as mentioned by City Limits, where Local Law 2019/092 was heard in January 2019, but not voted upon until four months later in April.

With the state of emergency no longer in effect as of June 24 in New York, the city’s fee caps are slated to expire on September 22nd. In other words, the clock is ticking. Restaurants cannot afford to wait much longer and risk being subjected to unreasonable commission fees if delivery platforms are not willing to work together with small businesses as equitable partners. City Council needs to intervene now and take the preventative action and protect our dining establishments by moving on this package as quickly as possible.

Edit 1: I originally tied the lifting of restrictions (June 15) to the end of state of emergency; however, Governor Cuomo officially lifted the state of emergency on June 24. I’ve updated the text as needed.

Edit 2: Council Member Gjonaj’s Chief of Staff Reginald Johnson noted that the expiration clause was meant to be written as an “and/or” trigger, as opposed to my parsing of AND, which means that 15% delivery fee commission will lift on August 17. I’ve included a copy of Local Law 2020/088’s expiration clause below with my emphasis in bold, and am letting Edit 1 stand for previous reference.

The requirements of this section apply only during the period in which a state disaster emergency has been declared by the governor of the state of New York or a state of emergency has been declared by the mayor, such declaration is in effect in the city, and all food service establishments in the city are prohibited from operating at the maximum indoor occupancy and for a period of 90 days thereafter.

Further reading

NYC Chinatown: (Not) for Your Consumption

Paying tribute to a neighbourhood is to embrace wholly—no digital brushing needed

I wasn’t sure if I was going to have a post this week, but seeing fashion designer Prabal Gurung tout his love for Manhattan’s Chinatown, all the while purposefully erasing it through photography for his Resort 2022 collection, had me in such a state of unease that I wanted to comment on it.

While Gurung’s comments to Vogue, block-quoted below, could be perceived as uplifting, the images, particularly the two that I want to unpack here, reveal something that does more so the inverse through its erasure a neighbourhood’s lived narrative.

I used to live in Chinatown, right before I launched my collection. That’s where I started to plot and plan what I wanted my career to be, but I was fully aware of how invisible the community was to the rest of New York. When we talk about the city we talk about the glitz and glamour, but its grit and the character is in neighborhoods like Chinatown. I wanted to celebrate that.

To contextualize what it means to show off or visit New York’s Chinatown, we have to understand this historical morsel: throughout the 19th century, slumming was a popular past time for New York’s wealthier uptown residents to participate in what was essentially class tourism. Horse-drawn carriages would guide “tourists” through Chinatown’s narrow streets, allowing them to to gawk from above at what and who they saw as different and “exotic”. It’s not so much that the community was invisible to the “rest of New York”, as it was continuously positioned as foreign, with its residents essentially casted as outsiders whilst trying to survive and navigate an immigration system that explicitly targeted them.

What do we see (or not see)?

So as it pertains to the photography for this collection, I suppose the immediate question would be whether or not it is possible to reclaim Chinatown from this lens of the exotic. In earnest, I would think so should there be an intent to actually celebrate the community in such a way that it turns this consumption of the Other (à la Edward Said) onto its head. But as we will see with Looks 16 and 18, shot by Jingyu Lin, below, we have something else entirely different.

Let me point your attention to the top right of both photographs. If it looks a little odd to you in terms of texture, it’s for a good reason. Let’s take a look at the side-by-side posted by the W.O.W. Project on their Instagram stories, where it becomes pretty clear that the strange texture was a result of a clone brush not properly deployed in Photoshop to mask the original artwork and text.

The photographs capture a glimpse of a mural, titled “In the Future, Our Asian Community is Safe”, on Mosco St., which was recently painted by a group of artists, led by Jess X. Snow in collaboration with the W.O.W. Project and Smithsonian APA Center.

In a related Instagram story, Snow points out that the side-by-side of the model on the left and Mei Lum (of Wing on Wo) on the right were actually photographed on the same day, noting that “@timmych4u and I were also trying to take photos in front of this mural I painted and we were asked by @prabalgurung’s team to come back when they were done.”

From a visual studies perspective

The blatant disregard for the original artwork and its intention to acknowledge indigenous land with digital brushwork is apparent, but I also want to take a step back and reflect on what’s transpired here from the lens of visual studies to really articulate the impact of what we see by this editing choice. And to do so, I want to draw from one of my favourite texts, Roland Barthes’ 1979 work Camera Lucida and Allan Sekula’s essay entitled “The Body and the Archive”.

Barthes states that “The Photograph is violent… because on each occasion it fills the sight by force, and because in it nothing can be refused or transformed.” Of course, this text was written at a time when it would be impossible to fathom a point in time when a click of a mouse could alter an image in its entirety. So what I would posit here is that the Lin’s altered photograph (it’s not clear if Lin edited the image or if a team in post did so) still asserts itself by forcefully commanding your attention; however it instead now announces what its creator wants, as opposed to captures, to be irrefutable. In turn, there is an added dimension to the photograph where it can so easily shape-shift and transform, potentially misleading us—as opposed to leading—to what ought to be seen. Not only is the photograph inherently violent, but it has also become potentially deceptive. Running counter against Barthes’ own idea that the frame cannot be transformed, this photograph forces its new reality upon us, without so much as a mention to the actual reality.

Which in turn brings me to Sekula’s essay where we are presented with the archive (i.e. the body of records or collection of images) and its dichotomous qualities: repressive and honourific. The archive does not have to be static in quality; it can very much be in constant flux, with the potential for meaning to change over time and context. And so what we see from comments and reviews (Refinery29, WWD, Vogue) from those who do know of what has transpired is an honouring this body of work—supporting the “celebration of Chinatown” as Gurung titles it.

However, when laying context overtop these images, specifically the two that I’ve highlighted above, I would contest that this body of work quickly takes on a repressive quality at both micro and macro touch points: the immediate archive (i.e. its images) and the contextual archive (i.e. the conversation/coverage surrounding the body of work). To obfuscate what was there in the photographs not only demonstrates repression in the form of denial of visual fact, but also in the compounding of the lack of discussion at large about what should have been seen. It is to say that the invisibility that Gurung mentions in his interview with Vogue cuts so much deeper when we situate this body of work in the context of how it forces the mural’s artistic quality and message out of the frame.

Final thoughts

To tout your love for a community requires to embrace it in its entirety.

What could have been easily solved by a shifting of the framing is instead damned with the deliberate transformation of how the reality should be depicted. What could have been a love letter to a neighbourhood hit hard by the pandemic is instead nothing more than a prop. What could have been an opportunity for meaningful dialogue and larger action has instead contributed to the continued silencing of voices of a community.

I’m going conclude by simply leaving leave Jaya Saxena’s tweet here about Jenny G. Zhang’s February article for Eater. If you have the time, I’d suggest the read and maybe we can go from there.

Good and Bad News for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund

Additional funding might be on the way but the SBA made a big change

The Good News

Given the initial number of applicants to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund during its first two days, with businesses seeking nearly $70B, it wasn’t a matter of if, but rather, how senators and house representations would pursue additional funding.

On Thursday, Senators Sinema, Blumenauer, Fitzpatrick, and Wicker introduced the “Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act of 2021”, which seeks to add $60B to the fund. Written as an amendment to the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the total available funds to food and drink establishments will total $88.6B should this bill be passed in full. If you think that the additional $60B in grants is an outsized increase, let us recall that this new number still falls short of Senator Blumenauer’s original ask of $120B last May—which had to be cut by almost 80% in order to get it through reconciliation.

The Bad News

While this news may deliver a positive outlook for businesses that do not receive funding this round, The Counter took a look at how the SBA has changed the way it is processing applications. From the case of Jake’s Bar and Grill LLC vs. the SBA, John Miller of the SBA notes the following in his declaration:

  • May 25, 2021: SBA began processing non-priority applications whose applicants had <$50K in FY19 gross revenues

  • May 27, 2021: SBA began processing all other non-priority applications

  • As of May 26, 2021, priority applications are on hold until the SBA finishing processing “all previously filed non-priority applications, and only then if the RRF is not first exhausted.”

For a quick summary of the Jake’s Bar and Grill LLC case, owner Antonio Vitolo stated that the grant discriminated against him because he was a white man who owned 50% of the business. Even though he co-owns the business with his Hispanic wife, the bar and grill could not be prioritized as it needed a 51% majority stake. The original opinion, which ruled in favour of the SBA, was overturned on May 28 by the Sixth Circuit court panel. The Sixth Circuit majority dubbed the establishment of priority groups as “racial gerrymandering” and subsequently ordered the SBA to fund Vitolo’s grant application. The dissenting opinion of the Sixth Circuit panel argued that the Biden Administration provided substantial evidence demonstrating that minority-owned businesses were more vulnerable to economic distress than their white counterparts.

And back to the three bullet points that I’ve highlighted above. Instead of placing unprocessed priority applications back into the regular queue of when they were timestamped—which would have made perfect sense—the SBA instead placed them last. In light of lawsuits from various plaintiffs, such as this one and Philip Greer in Texas, it comes as no surprise that the SBA would try to change its methods to avoid further legal troubles. However, this choice to pause the review of priority applications feels like undue punishment.

In Gist?

The call from both Democrats and Republicans to allow for additional funding is promising. But in order to productively move forward, the SBA needs to: a) be more transparent in its processes; and b) not “course correct” at the expense of those have been historically and continue to be disadvantaged and discriminated against. With not all minority businesses funded, the question of how these funds will be disbursed comes into play. The SBA certainly has some latitude in how they administer the program, but how they do so without running into more legal contests is a big question.

Further Reading:

Thoughts on being Asian American

And notes on diversity reports in media and tech

Language has always put me at odds with my Asian American identity. Where my friends would communicate to their parents in Chinese, I would only converse with my parents in English. The Cantonese dialect was reserved for my parents while watching TVB or for each other when they were tired of using their brains to translate sentences for me. It was an oddity that I seldom thought much of—my parents spoke fluent English, so why wouldn’t they just speak that with me? Even when I’d ask my mom about it as a child, she’d answer with a response that was so seemingly matter-of-fact: “We’re in Canada. You’re Canadian. I’m Canadian. English is the main language here, so why wouldn’t we speak it?”

Much of what we are taught in school hardly, if ever, addresses the effects of immigration policy in both Canada and the U.S. have had on Asian Americans. And to be honest, I knew very little of the experiences of Chinese and Japanese people in Canada and the U.S. (save for a paragraph or two about the Head Tax and Exclusion Act) until my mid-twenties. It was only when I began reading and learning, pouring over text after text, that I was able to better contextualize my parents’ decision, specifically my mom’s, to distance me from their mother tongue.

When I had finally become an adult, she’d explain to me why she could speak English without any trace of an accent; it wasn’t so much linked to a passport as it was to opportunity. For her, to be able to pass orally in colonial Hong Kong, at the very least, was a way to get her foot in the door and hopefully into the hallway of upward economic mobility.

But learning English, for her, as an adult was a challenging experience, which subsequently led her to believe that it would be equally confusing for a child (even though such has been disproven). Hence, she opted to raise me in a predominantly English-speaking household, believing that it would protect me potential run-ins from discrimination (unfortunately, it didn’t) and provide me the linguistic head start that she never had (fortunately, it did). But this decision is a commitment that has long lasting consequences; because even to this day, she is the one to do the heavy lifting, using her second language (or fourth, if you include Mandarin and Toisan dialects) on a daily basis, to communicate with me.

And so when I consider what it means to be Asian American today, I am inclined to define it with the word resilience. Despite the centuries of obstacles thrown our way through legislation, violence, and discrimination, Asian Americans have continued to persist and persevere in what at times has felt like an unwelcoming land. But we’re here, still standing, and ready to be heard.

On Diversity Initiatives in Tech and Media

For the larger companies, particularly media and tech, that release annual DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) reports, much of the details are obfuscated on the intersectional level. Instead, what becomes apparent is careful deliberation on what data cuts to share—what stories are best told, vs. the actual reality of intersectionality.

When I consider my own experiences, I am disturbed by the fact that I can count on one hand the number of Asian American women that I have met in media and tech’s largest companies with a VP+ title in a non-STEM capacity. It’s already discouraging to see a dearth of women in leadership positions, but it becomes doubly so when I rarely see anyone that looks remotely like me. The guiding lights are so few, either challenging me to press on or to turn away—the outlook depending on how you see the half-empty or half-full glass that day.

It should not be oddly refreshing to see when a large company admits their shortcomings. For instance, Snap’s fifty-page DEI report highlights not only their growth, but also their setbacks—because that is so much the reality in any of this work. An example of such a setback is the note on “Asian representation in leadership decreased from 16.5% to 14.3%.” (There is also a specific footnote acknowledging that the Asian community is not one monolithic group, so kudos to whomever made sure that that was something to point out.)

But perhaps most poignant was the swath of data available, beginning on Page 30 (including data corrections due to a change in methodology, even if it showed a diminishment in progress). By no means is it a data dump, but it is a lot of information for some to process—and that’s perfectly fine. Having the intersectional charts and tables available for optional reading is what actually makes the report more transparent than others.

The triumphant moment should not be when large companies hire a Person of Colour as a Chief Diversity Officer or when they see a single year-over-year increase without analyzing the intersectional data of job function, title, and gender. In one report that I’ve read, its tone felt victorious in having an increase in Asian and Black interns, although nothing was ever said of the rate of hiring for a permanent post-graduation position. In that same report, it almost seemed self-congratulatory in employing a significant percentage of Asians—however, they were all in Tech positions. I’m sure there are Asians that would like Non-Tech opportunities.

Not all the responsibility should fall onto these large companies—small ones, too, should look to do better. If, at the very least, educate those around you on what is happening and how the system set up these inequities. Knowledge is such a powerful tool, and it would be remiss to sit back and not try to understand at the very least.

To be accountable for progress is to admit both the wins and losses in a way that does not shield one from the other. This gloss-over highlight reel does not beget actual change—it instead creates dangerous illusions and false hopes. And while I am finally able to see some relatable stories on television, it does not mean that we should stop here and not try to address the ecosystem that powers the end product of what we see on our screens.

Further reading

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