Cook It Forward is starting the “THE WI RRF GIVEBACK CAMPAIGN”, which intends to fund Wisconsin-based minority-owned businesses who were notified by the SBA that they would receive restaurant revitalization fund grants, but whose payments were rescinded on June 14th following the outcome of lawsuits that barred the SBA from distributing grants on the basis of race and sex.
When Congress created the $28.6 billion restaurant fund in March as part of the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, it ordered the Small Business Administration to put a priority on funding for businesses owned by women, people of color and military veterans. The fund encouraged all businesses to apply for funding, but noted that approval would be contingent on a 21-day “priority window” for businesses owned and controlled by women, veterans, and socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. The fund then would be administered on a first-come, first-served basis.
Several white business owners sued, and federal judges ruled that they were likely to succeed in proving their claims that the program’s "priority" policy violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause. In response, The U.S. Small Business Administration notified 2,965 previously-approved Restaurant Revitalization Fund prioritized applicants that it would be unable to pay these remaining claims following the outcome of lawsuits in Texas and Tennessee that barred the SBA from distributing grants on the basis of race and sex. 278,304 restaurant owners applied for more than $72 billion in SBA RRF funding, nearly three times what the program had available. The SBA ended up approving and awarding only 101,000 nationally, with an average award of over $283,000, much of it going to white-owned businesses. Contrary to the original intent of the fund, which was supposed to prioritize businesses owned by historically marginalized people, the cancellation of the program left nearly 3,000 minority-owned businesses behind.
We invite and urge recipients of RRF funds in Wisconsin to pledge an amount equal to 3% of their RRF proceeds to CIF. In particular, we urge “majority-owned” businesses who were not intended to be prioritized, to “Cook It Forward” so that we can lift up our industry as a whole. The following are the starting roster of Madison-based RRF beneficiaries that have pledged funds:
Cook It Forward will also be soliciting funds from individual donors as well as corporate funding to help match funds donated by restaurants. We are starting our fundraising in Madison with the intention to concentrate on Milwaukee and possibly other parts of the state thereafter. We have isolated CocoVaa Chocolatier and Christine’s Kitchen in Madison as our first candidates to allocate donated funds. There are possibly other restaurant operators here in Madison as well as dozens of other operators located all around the state that we are trying to identify. We are asking all minority-owned businesses who were promised RRF grant money, but rescinded due to the lawsuits to contact us at https://www.cookitforwardmadison.com/. Candidates to receive funds will be vetted by a 3rd party accounting firm. Any additional funds pledged leftover will be used as seed money to fund Black-owned hospitality businesses, chosen by the recipients of these funds.
We at Cook It Forward and our funding partners are disheartened that critical rebuilding funds had been promised and then taken away, and have caused even more hurt, pain, and suffering for those most in need. “While our politics continue to divide us, hospitality, community and social entrepreneurship can right what has been wronged,” says Joshua Berkson, President of Rule No. One Hospitality Group, which runs Cook It Forward. “The word 'restaurant' derives from the French verb restaurer, meaning “to restore". We need to use this opportunity to build back better, take care of each other, and seek to uplift those left behind, especially the minority-owned food and beverage operators most in need and disproportionately hurt by the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. But our efforts will only do so much. We need Congress to refill the Restaurant Revitalization Fund so every single restaurant and bar can recover from the past 17 months, navigate the uncertainty ahead, and survive the pandemic.”
Explaining the urgent need to address the inequity caused by the distribution of funds, Syovata Edari, owner of CocoVaa Chocolatier, an intended recipient of the funds explains: “Those of us from historically marginalized communities have so many more barriers to overcome in launching, growing and sustaining our businesses. The gap between us and our white male counterparts was already wide before the pandemic. The ways in which pandemic relief has been distributed has widened that gap even more making it nearly impossible to compete anymore as so many of us have been underfunded or left out all together. Time is of the essence and sitting and waiting for the government to help us is no longer an option. It’s time to look to those in our industry to lift us up. We all come up when we bring each other up.”
About Cook It Forward:
Cook It Forward is a non-profit advocacy arm of Rule No One Hospitality, Inc. with a mission to address ongoing inequities in our food systems. We are all working collectively on social entrepreneurship, social equity, and social justice-- one meal at a time.
Cook It Forward was founded in June 2020 by Rule No. 1 Hospitality Group. In June 2020, we partnered with Francesca Hong, (Chef/Co-Owner, Morris Ramen, State Representative 76th District) and Alnisa Allgood (Executive Director, Collaboration for Good) to develop an end-to-end distribution network to tackle food insecurity in Madison. Participating restaurants and local nonprofit partners produced and distributed healthy, fresh meals for insecure families, seniors, and people with disabilities. Last-mile distribution partners ensured that the growing number of individuals and families who needed the food, and without recourse to access it, received it. In July 2021, Cook It Forward started THE WI RRF GIVEBACK CAMPAIGN to address inequities in the roll out of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.
Joshua Berkson, President, Rule No. One Hospitality, Founder, Cook It Forward, email@example.com, (646) 221-4022