CAMDEN, NJ — For John and Carol Kunkel — owner’s of Haddon Heights seafood and steakhouse restaurant that bares their namesake — a bevy of reminders exists to return them to their COVID-19 reality.
An indoor dining area that would ordinarily seat 140 has been replaced by a patio that seats 20. Fine dining menu items like braised beef bordelaise have taken a backseat to hamburgers and other easy-to-make takeout options. And a staff of eight has been reduced to two, that’s John and his wife — with family members occasionally pitching in as well.
“Everyone’s hurting right now, everyone. We’re in a better position than a lot of restaurants since we purchased the building 16 years ago so the mortgage is lower than most pay for rent...but each week it’s getting harder and harder to make the bills,” John told TAPinto Camden as he walked about his empty eatery an hour into opening.
Kunkel’s was one of hundreds in Camden County - and at least 62 in Haddon Heights - that received a loan from the United States Small Business Administration and the Treasury Department via the Payroll Protection Program (PPP). Data surrounding the distribution of the 4.9 million business loans was released earlier this month.
As part of bipartisan CARES packages, the $521 billion program provides direct incentives for employers to retain workers on their payrolls, according to the state.
In New Jersey, 531,360 jobs were retained through $4.5 billion in PPP loans. On average $100,000 was awarded to small business owners.
“The PPP is providing much-needed relief to millions of American small businesses, supporting more than 51 million jobs and over 80% of all small business employees, who are the drivers of economic growth in our country,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement. “We are particularly pleased that 27% of the program’s reach in low and moderate income communities which is in proportion to percentage of population in these areas.”
The family-owned restaurant has had to rely on delivery, through third-party services like Doordash and Caviar — which takes their own cut as well.
John says in March, a month before the outbreak would hit its peak in the Garden State and restrictions would begin to take their toll on restaurants like his, he was forced to lay off eight employees, including servers.
“The PPP money helped but it was minimal,” he explained. “It provided two and a half months worth of payroll, but I have other expenses outside of that. If you’ve had a restaurant you’ll know payroll isn’t a large part of the overhead, there’s electric, gas, liability insurance, all those things.”
The couple described Gov. Phil Murphy scrapping the July 2 date for indoor dining as “heartbreaking.” John says he had made food orders in anticipation of the loosening of rules, while Carol pointed to roughly 25 face masks - with the Kunkel’s name etched on - that were made to mark the date.
“Corporations are prospering, the big names, and meanwhile small business are still suffering. I haven’t been occupied since March 20 even though you can see it’s possible for social distancing while inside the restaurant,” John continued. “I’d like to know how you pay bills at 10% income.”
In the city of Camden, per the data released, 221 businesses received a total of $8.5 million in loans to lend support for 878 jobs at an average of $9,681 per job.
Religious organizations received 7.7% of the loans, the most of any other type of business, with lawyer offices receiving 3.62%. Non-profit organizations made up 12.2% of awardees, or a total of 27.
“The impact was huge, it was super huge because it let us keep a team through the summer and work on revising our company marketing assets and have the money to do that and bring in the tools we need to bring in new clients,” Nichelle Pace, who owns Camden creative agency Brand Enchanted, said over the phone.
Pace, who doubles as the vice president of the Camden Business Association (CBA), said the PPP loans translated to three to four months of payroll for her business.
Pace said the rollback on openings, especially in states surrounding New Jersey, has put additional straits on small businesses who were positioning themselves to begin recovering during the latter half of the summer.
“We should’ve been on the path to open everything in July like other countries but that’s not the case,” she said. “The long term effects will impact small businesses more than corporations who have the funding and assets to weather the storm.”
She emphasized that there are numerous minority and women-owned businesses that will continue to be disproportionately affected by the ongoing closures — especially on the precipice of a second wave.
According to a recent study from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) "lending discrimination" played a role in the distribution of PPP funds. In diving into the program, researchers matched pairs of Black and white applicants with similar credit characteristics to apply, finding that 27 out of 63 white applications received better treatment and results from lenders.
Only 23% of the national data available in the PPP loan records include any information on gender or race, as applicants are not required to provide background on demographics. The NCRC said the PPP's attempts to claim it is reinvigorating certain communities were baseless.
The NCRC called data released by the Treasury Department ostensibly “useless” in how it determined the manner in which those funds give a boost to vulnerable populations.
“The lack of data creates a gap in our understanding of PPP lending and presents a challenge for understanding the impact of this program on communities traditionally excluded from access to business capital,” researchers Jason Richardson and Jad Edlebi said.
“However, due to the size of the program, even this offers a glimpse of the challenges faced by women and minorities who need access to business credit," they added.