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Downtown Charleston restaurants lead pack applying for federal restaurant recovery grants

Butcher & Bee apple pie

Vegan apple pie from Butcher & Bee, Friday, Nov. 6. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

The Post and Courier Food section since August has been checking in weekly with four downtown Charleston restaurants coping with the coronavirus pandemic and recovering from restrictions designed to contain it. The following three restaurants are still finding their way back to normalcy. For previous installments of the series, as well as more information about the featured restaurants and their chosen strategies for success, click here.

Harold's Cabin: Come and get it

With the rush for $28.6 billion in Restaurant Revitalization Fund grants that were set to start April 26 at noon, it’s somewhat counterintuitive that business owners would have urged fellow restaurateurs to join them at the front.

After all, experts anticipated all of the federal money would be spent before the end of the three-week priority period reserved for restaurants owned by women, veterans and members of socially disadvantaged groups. There had been talk among restaurant industry insiders that the pot could be emptied by April 27.

“We expect that Day One numbers will be through the roof,” a National Restaurant Association spokesman said in a statement before the money was released.

But draining the fund quickly is a priority for Harold’s Cabin owner John Schumacher and other members of the Independent Restaurant Coalition. They hope to send a clear message to Congress, Schumacher said: “Replenish the fund.”

To fully cover the losses incurred by restaurants shut down by government orders, the Independent Restaurant Coalition estimates the fund would need another $100 billion.

And so Schumacher last week spent time spreading the word. He and Butcher & Bee owner Michael Shemtov participated in a roundtable designed to motivate restaurant owners across the Carolinas to apply for their share as soon as they possibly can.

That could mean stationing multiple representatives of a restaurant on different computers to make sure their application process isn’t hindered by a slow-loading site or other technical hang-ups, as Chasing Sage owner Cindy Edward said she’d considered doing. It stands to be a frenzied week.

Between pep talks, Schumacher was readying his own application.

Chasing Sage: Such little time

Prior to COVID, Chasing Sage’s latest challenge would have sounded like something devised for a second-rate game show: Prepare a new restaurant for opening, but operate a takeout noodle counter at the same time!

“We have to get all this done between making noodles,” owner Forrest Brunton said of the restaurant’s ever-growing task list.

After more than a year of being trapped in the limbo of uncertainty and watching time creep by at a painfully slow pace, Chasing Sage owners are now hoping they get to every item on their punch list before opening day.

The bar needs more coupe glasses.

The bathroom needs a few decorative touches.

The loquats that general manager Maxfield Clarke and his parents collected for one of the drinks on Chasing Sage’s list need to be pitted and marinated in liquor.

So long as the infusion is started soon, it should be ready for guests. And with owner Cindy Edward devoting every spare moment to browsing Etsy and local antique shops, the glassware collection is edging toward completion.

But Brunton and owner Walter Edward still need to clear their personal items and projects out of the kitchen, which is about to become a shared space. Brunton’s knives have long sat atop the station which will serve as the garde manger.

Also on the packing list is Brunton’s “big, big stockpot.” A 100-quart monstrosity that could double as a bathtub for a decent-sized pioneer family, the pot is a relic of the French dip food truck that Brunton ran in Seattle.

It wasn’t ever supposed to come to the Chasing Sage kitchen, but Brunton and Edward ended up using it almost every day for ramen production.

They won’t be using it much longer.

Butcher & Bee: "It's amazing"

Like Schumacher, Shemtov last week was looking forward to the opening of the Small Business Administration’s application portal. But he was also looking back.

“It was April 9, 2020, that I was on a phone call with about 220 members of Congress that (U.S. Rep. Jim) Clyburn had invited me to join. It was me and a guy from Orlando who owned nightclubs,” Shemtov said, remembering he brought up the idea of a dedicated fund for restaurant recovery.

“(U.S. Rep. Nancy) Pelosi said that’s an interesting idea,” he continued. “She said ‘We want to hear all about it.’”

Now, much to Shemtov’s satisfaction, everybody is hearing about it. He was deluged last week by mass e-mails from banks, point-of-sale system companies and accounting firms encouraging their contacts to apply for Restaurant Revitalization Fund grants.

“It’s amazing to have gotten here,” he said, recalling that many restaurant owners at the outset viewed the feds as potential adversaries in the battle to restore their businesses.

Last week, when Shemtov; Katie Button of Asheville, N.C.; and Ashley Christensen of Raleigh, got together to speak about the importance of the funding program, a Small Business Administration representative sat alongside them.

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Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.

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