Two years ago, hospitality industry veteran Robby Younes incorporated a decade-long quest to help family-owned farms survive into a charity called Heart to Harvest, which is now turning its attention to the eateries those farms supply.

Heart to Harvest's Restaurant Relief Fund is based on the theory that during the COVID-19 pandemic, the best way for farms to keep making money is to sell to local restaurants, not distributors. Yet without dine-in customers, or customers at all in many cases, those restaurants are having a tough time meeting overhead costs, let alone paying for ingredients.

Younes, who is the chief operating officer of Crystal Springs Resort in Hamburg and also founded the annual New Jersey Wine & Food Festival which was to have been last weekend, said while the federal Payment Protection Program is welcome and well-intentioned, it does not fit what restaurants need most.

 

Even if the PPP loan were able to be used, Younes said, for an establishment to pay its employees for a period of eight weeks — which we are fast approaching in New Jersey — what happens if that timeline expires and restaurants still are not able to open for table service?

Plus, those places that are still offering takeout and delivery have had rents and bills to pay. When they fully reopen, Younes wonders, what will their working capital look like?

Younes said New Jerseyans are itching to eat out for dinner once again, but he estimates thousands of restaurants may ultimately close for good. Some have already.

"Ninety-nine percent of the public that is home, safely, and waiting for this virus to flatten out, are all looking to go out to a restaurant," he said. "Life is about social living. Life is about the community. Life is about going to a restaurant, raising a glass, enjoying with a friend, creating a memory. It's not about just to eat and sleep."

The Restaurant Relief Fund is available to independent restaurant owners who run no more than five establishments, and eligible eateries must be located in New Jersey and the New York metro area.

Restaurateurs can begin to apply on May 15, and applications will be accepted for three weeks; the process is not first come, first served. Heart to Harvest has been collecting data from owners to see what they need, and both individuals and corporations can donate.

For more on Heart to Harvest's mission of keeping farming in the family, visit their website.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.