In June 2023, 89 independently owned restaurants, including 38 in Los Angeles, received $5,000 in grants from the California Restaurant Foundation’s Restaurants Care Resilience Fund. The grants, which are partially funded by a $1,000,000 donation from the Southern California Gas Company, can be used for equipment, technology upgrades, unforeseen hardships, employee retention bonuses and employee training. 

About SoCalGas

SoCalGas is a utility company based in LA and the primary provider of natural gas to Southern California residents and businesses. As the nation’s largest natural gas distribution utility, they deliver clean, safe and reliable energy to 21.1 million consumers through 5.9 million meters in more than 500 communities.

About the California Restaurant Foundation

The California Restaurant Foundation is a non-profit that empowers and invests in California’s restaurant workforce. Founded in 1981, CRF supports the restaurant community through relief grants for restaurant workers facing hardship, jobs, life skills training for 13,500 high school students each year and scholarships.

About the Restaurants Care Resilience fund

Since 2021, the Restaurants Care Resilience Fund has awarded grants to 972 independent restaurants throughout California. That’s 972 burger joints, taquerias, bakeries and more.

Restaurants Care is a nonprofit fund that provides relief grants to food and beverage workers in California. Grants cover basic needs like groceries and rent while people recover from illness, injury, a natural disaster or a death in the family.

COVID-19 restrictions lifted

As of today, restaurants continue to recover from the challenges they faced during the Coronavirus pandemic, despite restrictions being lifted. 

In May, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He determined that COVID-19 is now an established and ongoing health issue that no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, also known as pheic.

“COVID-19 has been so much more than a health crisis, disrupting economies, travel, shattering businesses, and plunging millions into poverty,”  Ghebreyesus said at a press conference. He also said that for more than a year, the pandemic has been on a downward trend, and “this trend has allowed most countries to return to life as we knew it before COVID-19. “Therefore, with great hope, I declare COVID-19 over as a global health emergency.”

Helping diverse communities

Alycia Harshfield, Executive Director of CRF, said that with the help of SoCalGas, the Resilience Fund helped financially support California’s independent restaurant community for a third consecutive year. With the donations of SoCalGas, they have been able to support small businesses in diverse and underserved communities across the state.

“It’s apparent that there is still a significant need for restaurant assistance, as we received 25% more applications this year than last. While these grants will allow local restaurant owners to build more resilient businesses, we also hope to inspire Californians to support their vibrant local restaurant community in any way they can, whether that’s through dining, sharing on social media, or spreading the word to friends and family.” Harshfield said.

Denise Campos, Los Angeles, Media and Stakeholder Engagement Manager at SoCalGas, She/Her, Latina

Denise Campos, Media and Stakeholder Engagement Manager at SoCalGas, said that of the 89 grant winners this year, 64% of them identify as female and 84% identify as people of color. 

“This was very important for us because we wanted to serve underserved communities. And also folks who can really use the help,” Campos said. The fund was started during the pandemic to help local restaurant owners, as many were going through difficult times. “Specifically, small businesses and small Latino businesses,” she said. She also explained that another reason they created the fund was to support restaurants culturally.

“Restaurants are part of our Latino culture. And it’s where people gather, celebrate and socialize,” Campos said.

Campos also said that 64% of the grant funds will be used for equipment and technology upgrades, and around 36% of the $5,000 grants will be put towards unforeseen hardships, employee training and even employee bonuses. To qualify for the grant, restaurants needed to have five units or fewer and make less than $3 million in revenue. 

Lichis Mex LLC

Valerie Loera is the Mexican restaurant owner and manager of Lichis Mex LLC in Tujunga. She is also one of the grant participants who received a $5,000 grant from the Restaurants Care Resilience Fund. Loera said that with the help of SoCal Gas and the RCRF, they have been able to reward their employees who have worked through the hardest times, specifically during the time of the pandemic. She also said that this grant has given her the opportunity to cover her bills. 

This grant would never have come to her attention if she hadn’t had a close friend who runs a small business. Loera’s friend has always been supportive of her and would always send her restaurant information and applications for grants. That’s how she became one of the lucky 89 restaurant owners to receive this grant. “This grant was truly an unexpected blessing, and it came at the perfect time,” Loera said.

 Valeria Loera and her parents at a Lichis Mex holiday party last year.

Loera’s restaurant first opened in August 2019. Her goal was to create a whole new concept of fresh Mexican food with an authentic taste. Lichis Mex recipes originate from Loeras’s hometown of Zacatecas, Mexico. “With the help of recipes that have been passed down from many generations, we were able to create a menu that consists of some of the most well-known Mexican dishes that many have come to know and love,” Loera said.

When the pandemic began, many restaurants, including hers, faced hardship. Lichis Mex was only a couple of months old when the pandemic had just started. She never imagined that many restaurants around the world, including hers, would be shut down due to the COVID-19 restrictions. Loera immediately had to create a new business plan to keep her business afloat. For Loera, it was important to keep her business running. Many of her employees left her side because they needed sick leave or needed to be with their families during this challenging time.

Her business plan included planning day by day. Every day was different. “Some days we would get 10 orders, and some other days we would get 20,” Loera said. Her staff included one other employee and herself.

Four years later, her business is still up and running, despite facing challenges during the pandemic. Residents from the Tujunga community congratulated her a lot last year for showing her commitment to the restaurant during hard times. “Slowly, we are becoming a neighborhood favorite, and it feels good,” Loera said.

Grant application

The next funding cycle for the $5,000 grants will be available for independent restaurants in October 2023. “Priority for the resilience fund grants will be given to new applicants,” Campos said. To sign up and receive alerts and updates on the fund, click here.

Amairani Hernandez is a native of Los Angeles and a graduate of the California State University of Los Angeles with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. She is a staff multimedia journalist, who focuses on...