In the more than two years Manish Maheshwari has owned conjoined restaurants Little Bella Mia and Coco Crepes, Waffles & Coffee in League City, business has never been so bad.
Like thousands of other restaurants across the country, Maheshwari's business has slowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To this day, restaurants can operate at only 50% capacity indoors, and Maheshwari’s restaurants are down at least 30% compared to prepandemic times, he said.
Fortunately for Maheshwari and thousands of other business owners in League City, Pearland, Clear Lake and Friendswood, the federal Small Business Administration stepped up to help. The SBA's Paycheck Protection Program offered forgivable loans to thousands of local businesses, including Maheshwari's, to help keep doors open and employees working.
Maheshwari agreed with other local business owners that the PPP provided him psychological relief and allowed him to pay both employees and the rent for his restaurants. Other business owners Maheshwari knows survived the economic downturn due to the PPP, he said.
“I think [the PPP] was a very neat idea,” he said. “The money was very helpful.”
Maheshwari applied for the PPP at the end of April. It took about a month to be approved, which was stressful, but the money he received covered eight weeks' worth of payroll, Maheshwari said.
"It helped us to pay the employees. It helped us to pay the rent," he said.
Tim Jeffcoat, the district director of the SBA in Houston, said the PPP has been successful in retaining Houston-area jobs. The PPP was especially helpful for restaurants because the pandemic closed dining rooms for weeks.
"That was a psychological impact," said Maheshwari, who noted he "had no clue" about the future of his restaurants during those uncertain times.
One of the requirements for a PPP loan to be forgiven is for the business to maintain the same level of employment. Maheshwari employs about 15 people between his two restaurants. While some have left and others have been hired during the pandemic, Maheshwari has kept his level of employment the same since he received the PPP loan, he said.
“That money helped us to keep all the employees employed,” Maheshwari said.
However, businesses are not out of the dark yet. With business so slow, Maheshwari said if things do not improve by next year, he will have to consider whether it is worth it to continue operating his restaurants.
“It’s a daily struggle,” he said.
Still, Maheshwari is trying to stay optimistic. During slow times, he is working to upgrade his restaurants' facilities and menus to attract new customers once business returns to normal, he said.
There has been discussion in Congress about another potential round of the PPP. If it became available, Maheshwari would apply again, he said.
"That would definitely help us to keep further along to survive," he said.