Just weeks after the conclusion of nearly $300,000 worth of funding to local businesses, the Village of Winnetka is preparing to provide additional assistance to restaurants.
Winnetka’s Village Council signaled support for a proposed restaurant relief grant program last week during a study session meeting. An ordinance approving the program is on the council’s consent agenda for its Tuesday, Dec. 15 meeting.
If approved, the program will provide $4,000 grants to 25 local restaurants in Winnetka before the end of the year.
Local restaurants do not need to submit an application for a grant, as village staff has already identified the eligible eateries. Chain restaurants are excluded from the program.
Checks will be hand-delivered to the local restaurants to ensure funds are received in the most timely manner, officials said.
Cary Michael, the co-owner of Fred’s Garage, couldn’t be happier to get support from the village.
After years of restaurant experience in Chicago, Michael feels refreshed to set up shop in a village that is reinvesting in its businesses.
“It’s nice to see that they are concerned with the businesses and that they are really going above and beyond to make sure that they do their part,” he told The Record.
The new round of funding comes on the heels of Winnetka’s sales tax rebate program that debuted earlier this year. The program, designed to provide relief to local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, closed on Dec. 1 after being open for 12 weeks. It provided $297,500 to 76 Winnetka businesses, according to village documents.
“The program made a big impact on our businesses,” said Liz Dechant, Winnetka’s economic development coordinator. “We heard over and over again from family members, from business owners, how grateful they were.”
Village officials earmarked $375,000 for the 95 eligible businesses in the initial program. With $77,500 left in remaining funds, officials decided to allocate the funds toward the restaurant grant program.
The remaining $22,500 needed to fund the program will be taken from the village’s economic development budget, according to village documents.
Fred’s Garage, the popular Winnetka eatery located at 574 Green Bay Road, used the funds provided from the sales tax rebate program to install sides on its outdoor patio and partially enclose it for the winter season.
Michael said the money was “instrumental” in helping the restaurant get that done.
A $4,000 grant from the village will be an immense help in the restaurant’s payroll, Michael said.
“We’re going to make sure that the staff gets pay and that we’re able to continue to employ people,” he said. “We have a lot of local residents (working here) — whether it’s high school kids helping at the host stand or some college students that are back serving for the break or back of the house staff that has been grinding it through this whole process.”
Because this grant program does not include any sales tax aspect, new restaurants that opened in 2020 are eligible to receive the $4,000.
One of those restaurants is 501 Local, located at 501 Chestnut St. Owner Mark Salmon said he was pleasantly surprised when he was contacted by the village about the new grant program.
“I have nothing but praise for the village,” he said. “They really, truly do try to make it easier for businesses and streamline the process. … I’m just very grateful. I think that they really do understand the pulse of the community; people in the community want restaurants.”
Salmon said that 501 Local is “trying to pull out all the stops” to battle through the pandemic. He added that the grant funds will truly matter to the restaurant.
“This (grant program) is really great — we’re honored and we’re going to make good use of the money,” he said.
Dechant, who described the village’s sales tax rebate as “a huge success” while addressing council members, added that the program was a “lifeline” for some business owners.
“In an era when small, locally owned businesses are being considered an endangered species in some communities, I’m really proud that Winnetka has made every effort to support our local businesses and make them a priority,” she said.
All members of Winnetka’s Village Council supported the next phase of relief funding for restaurants, making the consent-agenda item on Dec. 15 a near-certain approval.
“When business commits to Winnetka, we commit to our local businesses and hopefully that won’t be lost in all of this,” Trustee Andrew Cripe said.
Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.