A year ago, the King County health department shut down Duke’s Chowder House on Alki — part of a seafood chain with seven locations in the Puget Sound area — amid alleged violations of pandemic-related safety measures (which Duke’s management denied). About a year later, the company behind the Duke’s franchise, Elwood Investments, received $10 million in federal aid from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), the maximum amount possible. That’s one of the eyebrow-raising revelations from the list of Seattle restaurants receiving RRF money, per a recent Freedom of Information Act release (a searchable database can be found here). Like Duke’s, many high-profile recipients around the country raise questions about whether the money has been distributed equitably.
The $28.6 billion federal fund was set up as part of a larger pandemic-related stimulus package, and meant to specifically target the hospitality industry in ways that 2020’s Payroll Protection Program did not (including fewer restrictions on how to spend the money). Grants are designed to make up for a restaurant’s full pandemic losses, up to $5 million for a single venue, or up to $10 million for a restaurant group with fewer than 20 locations. The fund was supposed to prioritize businesses owned by veterans, women, and marginalized groups, although whether that was actually accomplished is another story. Over 2,900 venues receiving grants across the country haven’t received their funds following lawsuits from white business owners in various states claiming that prioritization was discriminatory.
In Washington, 3,247 RRF applicants were approved for more than $900 million in total grant money, and among the top recipients included Duke’s and Sea-Town Restaurants LLC, the company behind chef Tom Douglas’s restaurants, with $10 million in aid each. Last spring, Douglas’s restaurant group laid off hundreds of employees when the pandemic first impacted the region, and the chef eventually closed his iconic Belltown restaurant Dahlia Lounge permanently, while reopening the likes of Serious Pie, Dahlia Bakery, and Seatown Market and Fish Fry.
“Since closing our restaurant group 17 months ago, we have done our very best to negotiate our way through the challenges of the Covid 19 pandemic. While nothing is the same post pandemic, we have learned to be more efficient, worked harder than we ever have, and continue to be proud and productive,” Douglas said in a statement sent to Eater Seattle. “We have many plans for how to put this money to work including raising our hourly minimum wage, increasing participation in our healthcare benefits, paying rent to landlords that have seen little in the last year and a half, and reopening several of our businesses that have been temporarily shuttered.”
In another statement, Duke Moscrip — the co-owner of Duke’s Seafood — said, “Without these funds our restaurants might not have survived or would take significantly longer to recover from what was the worst crisis to our survival in our 45+ year history. Additionally, these funds have allowed us to invest in our teams and their futures, many of whom are loyal, longstanding team members.”
Others receiving $5 million or more in RRF money in the Seattle area include longtime restaurant 13 Coins, DSquared (a local event managing company), and several recognizable Pike Place operations, including the Pink Door, Pike Brewing, Lowell’s Restaurant, and the company behind nearby high-end Japanese spot Sushi Kashiba.
The RRF also doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to smaller local operations owned by people of color, including Fremont soba destination Kamonegi and Queen Anne Korean restaurant Paju. But it’s worth wondering whether even more RRF money could have been distributed to restaurants with less clout and name recognition than the likes of Duke’s and Douglas’s group. There were more than 7,000 applicants across Washington state, so more than half didn’t get aid from the program. With the RRF now completely depleted, a group of lawmakers have introduced a bill to replenish it.
Top 10 Seattle Restaurants and Hospitality Groups Receiving RRF Money
Elwood Investments LLC (the company behind Duke’s Chowder House) - $10 million
Sea-Town Restaurants Inc (the company behind Tom Douglas’s restaurants) - $10 million
13 Coins - $9,971,512
DSquared Hospitality Company - $5,011,029
Lish Inc. - $5,000,000
The Pink Door Inc. - $5,000,000
Pike Brewing Company and Liberty Malt Supply - $4,953,893
Lowell’s Enterprise’s Inc. - $3,747,869
Edomae LLC (the company behind Sushi Kashiba) - $3,747,869
Cherry Street Coffee House LLC - $3,585,532
UPDATED, July 14, 2021, 2:52 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from Duke Moscrip, the co-owner of Duke’s Seafood.
- Small Business Administration disclosure of businesses approved for Restaurant Revitalization Fund [via the Business Journals]
- Everything Restaurants Need to Know About the Restaurant Revitalization Fund [Eater]
- Restaurant Revitalization Fund Report [Small Business Administration Official]
- These Restaurants Were Approved for Federal Aid. White Restaurateurs Just Hijacked It. [Eater]
- Which NYC Restaurants Pulled in Millions in Pandemic Aid? [ENY]
- King County Closes Seafood Restaurant Duke’s on Alki Due to COVID Outbreak [ESEA]