In another revelation from recently released data on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) from the Small Business Administration, the French Laundry received $2.4 million in two separate loans last spring, ostensibly to retain over 160 employees.
ABC 7 reports that Thomas Keller's flagship restaurant in Yountville had two loan approved on April 30, one for $2.2 million to retain 163 employees, and another for around $200,000 to retain five other employees. That amounts to about 17 times more federal money that the average Bay Are restaurant received — and it's another example of a larger, wealthier business reaping stimulus benefits that many smaller businesses didn't have access to.
The lack of equity in how these federal stimulus funds were distributed is becoming more and more glaring as we close out a year in which thousands of independent restaurants across the country have gone under. Last week we learned that companies tied to Governor Gavin Newsom and his family received $2.9 million in PPP funds, and two weeks ago we first learned that big chain restaurants like P.F. Chang's and TGI Friday's received the maximum-sized loans available, which were $10 million.
According to data received by ABC 7, 5,450 full-service restaurants in the Bay Area received PPP loans this year, which are forgivable if they are primarily used to pay employee salaries. As we learned via the New York Times, 87 percent of the loans made in the program were for $150,000 or less, and large companies including prominent law firms and restaurant chains consumed about one quarter of the total money available. 600 of those companies got loans of $10 million apiece.
News about the French Laundry's sizable loans comes not long after the restaurant figured into a major embarrassment for Newsom — in which he was caught dining at a table for 12 at the restaurant to celebrate a friend's 50th birthday while simultaneously urging Californians not to mix with other households or celebrate Thanksgiving.
ABC 7's analysis found that 91 percent of larger restaurants in California with 300 or more employees saw their PPP loans approved, while only 52 percent of smaller restaurants — with 100 or fewer employees — had their loans granted this year.
San Francisco chef Val Cantu, who owns five-year-old Mission District restaurant Californios, tells ABC 7 that he received a loan of $214,597 to retain 10 to 14 people. And he says there's been confusion since the program began about what the rules are for using the funds.
"Whether the PPP will be forgivable... we'll see, I'm not sure if it will be," Cantu says.
Californios has two Michelin stars, and remained closed after the first stay-at-home order was issued in March. In October we learned that the restaurant is relocating to the former Bar Agricole space on 11th Street in SoMa.
Other SF restaurants with two or three Michelin stars that received loans include Saison, Acquerello, Benu, and Atelier Crenn.
Photo: Peter Merholz/Wikimedia