Restaurants excited about Gov. Evers’ budget proposal for small business recovery

‘It’s all welcome’: Madison-area restaurant owners say any assistance is helpful, but more will be needed to get through.
Published: Feb. 14, 2021 at 9:51 PM CST
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DANE COUNTY, Wis. (WMTV) - On Sunday, Governor Tony Evers announced another part of his plan to fund Wisconsin for the next two years. The latest budget proposal includes over $200 million to help small businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The announcement came on Valentine’s Day, one of the busiest holidays for restaurants in the Madison area.

“On top of getting all the boxes sold for Valentine’s, we had a lot of people just getting takeout, hot food,” explained Francesco Mangano, owner of downtown Madison’s Osteria Papavero.

For 15 years, Mangano has been serving homemade Italian food to his customers. This year, Valentine’s Day orders kept him busy, an unexpected boost during the pandemic.

“It’s been very, very quiet the last four months,” Mangano said, explaining he closed his restaurant to indoor dining in October.

In 2020, Mangano did receive Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans from the federal government and grant money from state and local sources, but he said it provided only short-term relief.

“We kind of stretched the money, but after four or five months, it was gone,” he said, adding, “It’s just a little drop in the bucket.”

Governor Evers’ Sunday announcement comes as welcome news for business owners like Mangano. The $200 million allocated for small business recovery would be distributed by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), likely through grants.

“Just putting dollars in the wallets of business owners, so that they can use those funds as they see fit,” said WEDC Secretary Missy Hughes, adding, “We believe, and have believed all along that the businesses are the ones who should be the ones deciding how to deploy those dollars.”

Hughes explained WEDC will spend the next few months talking to businesses to find out where the assistance is most needed.

“I don’t think there’s been as much federal support as we were hoping for, so getting it at the state level is really nice,” said Dave Heide, owner of Liliana’s Restaurant in Fitchburg.

Heide has kept Liliana’s dining room closed since March 2020. He said more state assistance is a lifeline, but restaurants rely on all levels of government and the community to get through.

“Think to yourself, ‘What are the five restaurants that I want to be here at the end of all this, where do I want to go and spend a cocktail?’ and just come order take out from us,” Heide urged.

Mangano added, “Whatever gets us to go back to have a normal amount of customers coming in, normal sales, it’s all welcome.”

Evers’ proposal also includes $100 million for a venture capital fund to support new businesses. Twenty percent of the funds would go towards minority-owned and women-owned projects

In total, the proposal allocates more than $329 million in economic development initiatives as part of the governor’s Badger Bounceback plan to rebuild the state’s economy.

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