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'It's the right thing to do': COVID-19 has St. Pete BBQ restaurant closing its doors

Normally, it would be MnM BBQ's busiest time of the year. But now, they are hoping for financial help from federal and local governments during the pandemic.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Under a statewide "safer-at-home" order, restaurants are being forced to shift to takeout or delivery only. But for some businesses, that just isn't enough.

"For a business like mine, that relies a lot on live music and trivia nights and other events, it's not enough to stay open on just takeout and delivery alone," said Mike Silverstein, the owner of MnM BBQ. 

Silverstein's BBQ business, part restaurant, and part catering has been in the St. Pete area for two decades. In addition to his restaurant and catering gigs, Silverstein was a staple at the St. Petersburg Saturday Morning Market.

"This is the busiest time of year for us. It usually helps us get through the slower summer months," said Silverstein. 

He said spring catering gigs help fund his business when it's hotter and a lot of snowbirds have left for the year. So, closing now has ceased all of his business income. All of his catering events were canceled through May by his clients. Silverstein sold all of his uncooked meats to the community and beer to other local vendors to pad his pockets with some money. 

Silverstein said after a couple of weeks of trying take-out and delivery, he realized it wasn't enough to keep the business running and to put employees at risk. 

"Frankly one of the toughest days of my life was laying off my crew," said Silverstein. "...but it's a smart thing to do, it's the only right thing to do. I've always encouraged everyone to go out for the essentials but then stay home and protect yourself and protect your families." Silverstein says he'll continue to do catering gigs as they come up. He's not sure when the restaurant will re-open.

There is some help available to small business owners like Silverstein, coming from federal small business loans as part of the Paycheck Protection Program. The government set aside about $350 billion for small business owners to keep their employees on their payroll and help businesses continue to operate. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), millions of Americans can qualify for this loan, which could be as much as $10 million per business.  

RELATED: Q&A: How small businesses hit by coronavirus crisis can get help

Silverstein said after taking such a huge financial loss, a loan may not be the best option for him, so he's looking for grants and other assistance programs.

St. Petersburg announced the 'Fighting Chance Fund'. The city program will provide $5,000 grants to impacted, eligible businesses and $500 grants to their affected employees. If approved, recipients do not have to pay back these grants, but it is considered taxable income. 

The state of Florida has also created a bridge loan program to help. You can apply here.

RELATED: 'Fighting Chance Fund' will help small businesses in St. Pete

RELATED: Coronavirus FAQ: We answered 76 frequently asked questions about COVID-19

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