The plight of restaurant operators over the past two years has been well-told, with dining rooms shuttered and servers and kitchen staff laid off amid the pandemic shut downs.
Some restaurants were able to get help from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a federal grant program that was included in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan President Biden signed into law in March. Recipients would not have to repay the funding as long as the money is spent on eligible uses no later than March 2023.
“Unfortunately, two-thirds of the 300,000 applicants to that program were not funded because the program itself was underfunded,” said Tyler Akin, outside his restaurant, Le Cavalier at the Hotel DuPont in Wilmington.
Akin, who is also chef-owner at Philadelphia’s Stock and Res Ipsa Cafe, is one of several chefs who will team up to raise money to support the Independent Restaurant Coalition’s efforts to help more of those restaurants.
“The IRC is still fighting to make those funds accessible to every restaurant that was eligible,” he said.
Starting in December, Akin’s Le Cavalier will join other independent restaurants in downtown Wilmington in hosting ticketed events with guest chefs of national renown, including:
- Tom Colicchio chef and owner of Crafted Hospitality, which currently includes New York’s Craft, Temple Court, and Vallata; Long Island’s Small Batch, Los Angeles’ Craft Los Angeles; and Las Vegas’ Heritage Steak and Craftsteak.
- Four-time James Beard award winner Andrew Zimmern, host of Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern
- Ashley Christensen, owner of several restaurants in North Carolina including Poole’s, Death & Taxes, and Beasley’s Chicken + Honey
- “Top Chef” finalist Jen Carroll, a native of Philadelphia
- Gregory Gourdet, also of “Top Chef” fame, who opened the pop-up restaurant Kann Winter Village during the pandemic
- Niki Russ Federman, the fourth-generation co-owner of Russ & Daughters which has been a go-to spot in New York City for bagels & lox since 1914.
“The proceeds will benefit the Independent Restaurant Coalition,” said Mike Hare, executive VP for the Buccini/Pollin Group. “That’s going to support this ongoing lobbying effort to secure additional funding for independent restaurants throughout the country.”
The special dining events will highlight the city’s burgeoning restaurant scene, said Mayor Mike Purzycki.
“The key to the success for our city is to invite the very best restaurateurs of this area, in this whole region to come and locate in Wilmington. And boy, we’ve gotten some great ones,” Purzycki said. “It’s really been exciting to see the city transform its culture because of these first-class restaurants that have located here.”
Last month, Eater.com’s Philadelphia-focused website highlighted Wilmington’s rising restaurant scene, declaring “With a crop of restaurants helmed by some of Philly’s most notable chefs, the city in Delaware is ready to break out.”
“It’s just amazing how the independent restaurants here… continue to expand and expand throughout the pandemic,” said developer Rob Buccini, whose buildings house many of the city’s top restaurants. “We credit lots of that success during COVID to the Independent Restaurant Coalition and the ability for them to secure the funds that were critical to survive.”
He said thriving restaurants are key to drawing visitors and residents to come to downtown Wilmington. He’s hopeful efforts to lobby Congress for another round of revitalization funds will help even more restaurants survive.
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