Pittsburg to help restaurants rebound from COVID, modernize

Knowing restaurants were heavily impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic and related shutdowns, Pittsburg will soon offer free help to modernize their operations and grant opportunities to stay afloat.

Dubbed Pittsburg Eats, the new program on Monday won unanimous approval of the council, which also agreed to spend $200,000 of federal American Rescue Plan Act money it has received to get it off the ground this year.

Under the agreement, the city will partner with Cal Poly Humboldt’s Northern California Small Business Development Center to establish and run the program. The Concord-based center will offer restaurants one-on-one technical and marketing assistance in an effort to help them survive in a new post-pandemic reality, according to Jordan Davis, director of Community and Economic Development.

“Restaurants already deal with extremely small (profit) margins,” Davis told the council. “It’s incredibly tough to operate a restaurant even in some of the most affluent cities with an extreme amount of folks that like to eat out, you’re still dealing with restaurateurs that are risking quite a bit to operate these small businesses.”

And things only got more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, noting that restaurants were required to make modifications to operate and some are still struggling from the effects as well as ongoing supply-chain issues.

“There were a lot of businesses both in Pittsburg and in surrounding communities that pivoted during COVID,” Davis said. “They modified their business models…. And we’re starting to see the demand for restaurants bouncing back, but the industry has changed and it’s going to be changed for the foreseeable future.”

To survive, one needs to keep up with the times, but the Community and Economic Development director said short-staffed restaurants may have little time to do that on their own.

“So this is an opportunity to bring those (modernization ideas) to these restaurateurs and to help them through some of these processes and this will all be done at no cost to the restaurants,” he said. “So all they will need to do is agree to be part of the program, attend the classes….and there will actually be a small grant ($5,000) at the end to help and implement some of these things that we’ll be talking about.”

Restaurant applicants will be screened and seven to eight will be chosen to participate in the initial program, according to Davis. They will then be assigned a primary advisor who will help them with goals and how to achieve them. Some of the topics to be covered include modernizing menus, improving social media presence, cost control, customer service and marketing strategies, he said.

“Maybe we can help some of those businesses (that are not yet well-known) take that next step and become a (New) Mecca, where it’s a renowned Bay Area institution,” he said.

The end result, Davis added, will be a playbook that the city “can share with other restaurateurs to help guide them through implementing some of these same strategies.”

Mayor Shanelle Scales-Preston said she supported the proposed program, noting that how restaurants sell their food is different coming out of the pandemic.

“Some of the restaurants don’t have Yelp, they’re not on Google, or don’t have a website or do not do online orders, and those things are so important,” she said. “I think it (the program) can really help some of our small restaurant owners to get up to speed and just modernize menus and look at their finances and budgets and where they should order products …so I really think this is great and we can create a real model moving forward.”

Councilman Jelani Killings also said he was supportive but wanted to be sure restaurants are chosen from different areas of the city.

“Absolutely, we will try to touch all four corners, as it were, of the city to spread the love a little bit,” Davis said.

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