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'We had to lean on faith': Milwaukee soul food kitchen rebounds despite federal stimulus denials

Posted at 6:42 PM, Mar 30, 2021

MILWAUKEE — Helps is on the way for thousands of struggling restaurants in Wisconsin.

The Badger State is about to receive about $5 billion out of $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package.

We asked the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation for a breakdown of how much of the last two federal stimulus money was allocated to Wisconsin bars and restaurants. They shared these figures:

  • Phase 1 Grant: $7.685 million was given to 3,066 restaurants and bars
  • Phase 2 Grant: $22.01 million was given to 4,402 restaurants and bars
  • Phase 3 Grant: $45 million to restaurants and bars ‘We’re All In for Restaurants’

Unfortunately the owners of Grandma’s Hands restaurant in the Enderis Park Neighborhood say they have been left out.

 Grandma’s Hands

“We got denied, like four times,” said Grandma's Hands co-owner Kimberly Smith-Johnson. “Every time we applied for a loan, the door was closed in our face. We weren't in business long enough.”

Because the family business officially received its license to operate in February of 2020, they missed the cut-off to qualify for any of the grants they applied for. This was Jan. 1, 2020.

 Grandma’s Hands

When they applied for a PPP loan, Smith-Johnson says, “The bank said they ran out of money. So that denied us. We got one SBA loan last year for $5,000, but basically we have been running on family funds.”

Surviving their first year in business during the pandemic has been stressful. “We had to lean on faith,” said Grandma’s Hands co-owner Darrnyl Wallace.

 Grandma’s Hands

They almost considered throwing in the towel about two months ago. “At that point, I said we're not going to stop, we're just going to keep doing this is my dream,” said Smith-Johnson.

In the past 30 days, their food made from their grandmother’s treasured recipes is up.

They hope to qualify this time for the next round of stimulus. “This would help us keep our employees, pay some bills and keep us above water,” said Wallace.

We reached out to WEDC. A spokesman says there are many avenues businesses like Grandma’s Hands could apply to, writing:

There are numerous local groups that help small businesses, some of whom partner with WEDC, including the Small Business Development Centers, which are located at UW campuses around the state, groups like the African American Chamber of Commerce, the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiatives Corporation (WWBIC), and the Northwest Side Community Development Corporation, to name a few.”

We also asked the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation why the guidelines cut off entrepreneurs who opened new businesses starting Jan. 1, 2020 from receiving grants in the last two federal stimulus rounds. They responded:

Throughout last year’s three rounds of We’re All In grants, WEDC’s focus was on helping small businesses that existed before COVID-19 to weather the pandemic. Start-ups that were created after the pandemic were eligible to apply for the We’re All Innovating grants in the fall. It’s WEDC’s intention that any new stimulus funds would be available to businesses that started up after the pandemic began.”

Grandma's Hands is located at 2721 N. Blaine Place in Milwaukee.

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