Latest EDA grant program will award $2M to buy meals from struggling restaurants

In a program that can help the hard-hit restaurant industry as well those needing food assistance, the state’s Economic Development Authority announced Friday the Sustain and Serve NJ Program, a $2 million grant program that will buy meals.

The program will provide funding to organizations to purchase meals from restaurants that have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and distribute them at no cost to New Jersey residents.

Eligible organizations can receive grants of at least $100,000 for prospective bulk purchases of meals from New Jersey-based establishments. Restaurants may not directly apply for this grant.

Here’s how it will work:

  • The program will be open to entities, including 501(c) nonprofit organizations, that are legally registered to do business in New Jersey and are in good standing with the New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development and the New Jersey Division of Taxation;
  • Grant applicants will be required to demonstrate prior bulk purchases of 3,000 or more meals valued at $50,000 or more from New Jersey-based restaurants between March 9 of this year and the date of application launch. (The NJEDA will not provide reimbursements for meals purchased prior to the program launch.);
  • Applicants will need to identify the restaurant or restaurants from which they will be purchasing meals. To receive funding, the partner restaurants must have 50 or fewer employees; maintain a physical commercial location in New Jersey; be legally registered to do business in New Jersey and in good standing with the Department of Labor, Division of Taxation and (where applicable) the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control; and possess valid certification from municipal or county government inspection showing a current rating of Satisfactory per the New Jersey Retail Food Establishment Rating system.
  • Restaurants will also have to certify that they were in operation on February 15, 2020, and detail how their business has been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Applications for Sustain and Serve NJ will be available soon. More information about the program can be found here.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit restaurants harder than almost any other industry. According to the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association’s most recent estimates, as many as 30% of New Jersey restaurants are at risk of permanent closure. The Department of Labor reports that more than 134,000 restaurant employees have filed unemployment insurance claims.

Tim Sullivan, the CEO of the EDA, said the program is a way to address this.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating impacts on all of our lives, but restaurant owners and their employees have been hit particularly hard,” he said. “Sustain and Serve NJ is an innovative solution that will provide much-needed relief to our restaurant sector while also providing free meals to New Jersey residents. This is crucial to ensuring New Jersey’s communities and economy withstand the pandemic and are in a strong position to recover.”

Sullivan said the grant funding will be restricted to expenses related to the direct cost of purchasing meals, as determined by the grantee’s restaurant partner or partners. This cost may include the restaurant’s cost of food and ingredients, labor, packaging, facilities and profit margin. Sales tax and gratuity cannot be paid for using grant funds.

While the restaurant may charge any amount, the award amount will be capped at $10 per meal. No other expense incurred by the grantee, whether in support of the meal purchase from the restaurant or otherwise, is eligible. Grant funding can only be used to support expenses incurred before or on April 30, 2021. And meals purchased with grant money cannot be resold.