OGDEN — The restaurant industry continues to be hard hit as COVID-19 social distancing measures keep people out of eateries all over the nation, but an Ogden-based financial institution is banking on the hope that "every little bit helps."
Rhonda Greenwood, a marketing consultant for the Bank of Utah, said the bank has launched its "Chow Down Challenge" — an initiative that aims to give around $8,000 in tips to a select list of restaurants stretching throughout the state. As part of the program, Greenwood said the bank is asking the public to order takeout or delivery food from a group of pre-selected restaurants, then post a photo of the food on social media along with the restaurant's name, location and the tags #BoUChowDown and @BankofUtah.
Bank of Utah will give the restaurant a $20 tip for every post it receives from now until May 6.
"In times of crisis, it’s very important to band together," Doug DeFries, president of Bank of Utah, said in a statement. "So, we’ve created a fun and creative way for people in the community to help local restaurants survive during a time when they’ve had to dramatically reduce their business to take out and delivery services only. Utah’s restaurateurs are doing their best to keep us fed while protecting their employees and the public from the COVID-19 Virus, and we hope to reward them with a little extra cash to show our appreciation."
A complete list of restaurants eligible for the money can be found at www.bankofutah.com/events/bank-of-utah-chow-down-challenge.
Nick VanArsdell, owner of Lucky Slice Pizza in Ogden, said the bank's program and several other grassroots measures are helping to keep some establishments afloat.
In the Ogden area, Ogden’s Own, the largest independent distillery in Utah, announced last month it would donate all profits in March and April to local staff members and employees of Utah’s bar and restaurant community. Earlier this month, the distillery also said it would donate $10,000 to support Ogden dining establishments through a fund established by the Ogden Downtown Alliance.
Kim Bowsher, director of the ODA, said the fund directly supports employees of restaurants, bars and food service facilities whose livelihood is most impacted by the current business closures. The ODA will be allocating funds in waves as they become available, and restaurants and bar owners are encouraged to sign up for support at ogdendowntown.com/supportogdendining/.
"It was a pretty crazy experience to watch about 50% of the business basically disappear overnight," VanArsdell said. "We've had to let go of quite a few employees and it's just hard. You spend more time with them than you do with your family sometimes, so it's almost been like losing a family member. And a lot of our employees are young, without a lot of savings, so it's been really difficult for them."
VanArsdell said Lucky Slice, which also has locations in Clearfield and Logan, was recently approved for a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan, with help from the Bank of Utah.
"I feel pretty lucky. I have some friends that deal with national banks and they just never heard anything back," VanArsdell said of the loan. "The way I look at it, we got a reprieve for the next eight weeks. But it's hard to predict what happens after that."
Created by the CARES Act, the $349 billion PPP fund has already been exhausted. Howard Headlee, president of the Utah Bankers Association, said the "political gamesmanship that has consumed Washington, D.C.," has slowed the process to find more funding for the program.
"We had hoped that Congress would act before the funds were exhausted," he said. "But the speed with which banks were processing the applications, literally around the clock, didn’t allow enough time."
Headlee said in the 10 days after the PPP effort was launched, Utah small businesses received 12,914 loans, totaling more than $2.6 billion.
VanArsdell said regardless of what the next few months bring, the small business landscape will be significantly changed by the pandemic.
"Things are going to be different for a while," he said. "Even when this all clears up, it's not like we're going to be able to flip a switch and everything goes back to normal. It's going to take some time."