Restaurateurs grapple with confusing SBA loan application process

By , Daily Memphian Updated: April 07, 2020 9:15 AM CT | Published: April 07, 2020 4:00 AM CT

It was all upstream, but Memphis restaurateurs navigated the uncharted waters of the CARES Act starting Friday morning and made it through, a little confused but with loan numbers in hand. Now they wait.

“We have no idea how long it will take until we get the money,” said Kelly English, owner of Restaurant Iris, The Second Line and Fino’s.

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Lauren Robinson of Huey’s doesn’t know. Ryan Trimm of Sweet Grass doesn’t know; ditto for Anna Vergos at the Rendezvous and Patrick Reilly at The Majestic Grille.

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Everyone found themselves in a whirlpool of changing rules and required documents when the SBA loan process opened up. First, they wanted these forms, then they needed those for the Paycheck Protection Program, which will allow companies to pay their employees’ salaries and benefits for eight weeks with a loan that can be forgiven.

“They changed the forms like four times,” English said. “They didn’t know the terms that they wanted us to use. The local banks have been fantastic, but the rules in Washington were changing while we were doing it.”

<strong>Majestic Grille owner Patrick Reilly&nbsp;was one of many Memphis restaurateurs who ran into headaches trying to get SBA loans.</strong> (Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian)

Majestic Grille owner Patrick Reilly was one of many Memphis restaurateurs who ran into headaches trying to get SBA loans. (Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian)

Reilly found himself in a particularly tough spot. He’s been a personal customer of Bank of America for 20 years and that’s been Majestic’s bank since it opened 15 years ago.

“I’ve never had an issue with the local people,” Reilly said. “The customer service at the local level has always been stellar and when all this came down, they put me in touch with the local guy who could not have been more helpful.

“He emailed me everything I needed, texted me Thursday night and said he had all the documents and told me to go online Friday morning,” Reilly said.

So he did.

“We were at the computer, coffee made, waiting there like we were waiting to get in an optional school or something,” he said. “I get a message that says my account doesn’t qualify for a loan and I need to contact the SBA.”

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He contacted the local banker and meanwhile got an email from Bank of America telling him he has to have a corporate credit card or a line of credit with the bank to qualify.

“I don’t have any debt,” Reilly said. “I freaked out. I called the guy I’d been working with and he said that had been put in place late Thursday night.”

So Reilly started calling around; then he was contacted by Daniel Reid of Renasant Bank.

<strong>Kelly English</strong>

Kelly English

“He’s a customer and he stepped up,” Reilly said. “He said, ‘You’re a friend, you make good grilled cheese, let’s see what we can do.’ So, someone from the bank reached out, said they would take care of us, and they did.”

Robinson was met with an unusual problem:

“For Huey’s, each (restaurant is) an LLC, so they fall under the 50 employees. But we use a common paymaster, for lack of a better term, to pay all the employees,” she said.

They initially tried to apply as one company, and like other restaurateurs, filled out paperwork various times as requirements kept changing. Then they realized that each restaurant needed to apply separately.

“We worked most of the weekend,” Robinson said. “But it’s done.”

English is done, too, and grateful for the support of local banks — but frustrated with the process.

<strong>Lauren Robinson</strong>

Lauren Robinson

“Restaurants are so harshly criticized,” he said. “This would be like you coming in on a Friday night and ordering and then when you’re waiting on your food, we say ‘Well, we just changed the menu.’ Or when we give you the bill we say, ‘Sorry, we changed the prices.’”

Nonetheless, like many restaurant owners, he’s been working without a paycheck and he’s happy to know that soon he’ll be able to pay himself and bring back his workers.

“We won’t waste a second in getting people paid,” he said. “I don’t know what they’ll do, but we’ll have something and they’ll be getting paid.”

Reilly is ready to get his 70 employees back on the payroll, ready to get business running again. Then he knows what he’s doing.

“I will be moving everything over to Renasant just as soon as it’s practical to do so,” he said.


Patrick Reilly Lauren Robinson Kelly English Paycheck Protection Program CAREs Act
Jennifer Biggs

Jennifer Biggs

Jennifer Biggs is a native Memphian and veteran food writer and journalist who covers all things food, dining and spirits related for The Daily Memphian.


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