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American Express is awarding $1 million in grants to ‘historic’ small restaurants

February 23, 2021, 11:00 AM UTC

American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation are launching a national grant program worth $1 million for “historic” small restaurants.

The program will support 25 small restaurants across the country that have been hit hard financially by the pandemic. Restaurants awarded grants can use the funds to improve, upgrade, and preserve their physical spaces and online businesses, as well as mitigate existing operating costs.

“This program is about backing the small restaurants that have served our communities for decades,” says Colleen Taylor, president of merchant services for the U.S., at American Express. “The ones that have stood the test of time but are being tested more than ever before. They aren’t just businesses, they’re our history.”

From Amex and the National Trust, each restaurant will receive $40,000 in funding for operational improvements. Dell and AT&T Business are also pitching in, and they will each give $5,000 to each historic small restaurant grantee to upgrade their digital business capabilities.

To qualify as a historic small business, nominees must be independently owned, have operated and contributed to the neighborhood’s history, and have experienced significant financial hardship due to the impacts of the pandemic.

American Express noted that the focus of the program will be on restaurants owned by people of color, women, and other underrepresented groups disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Priority will be given to small restaurants who have not already received significant COVID-19 related aid, such as funding through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Customers can also share their favorite picks for historic small restaurants for consideration online.

Final grantees will be selected by a board of reviewers from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Main Street America and American Express, and grants will be awarded this spring.

The emergence of the grants program follows what has been nothing short of a devastating year for the restaurant industry. More than 110,000 eating and drinking establishments in the United States closed for business—temporarily or permanently—last year, with nearly 2.5 million jobs erased from pre-pandemic levels, according to the National Restaurant Association. And restaurant and foodservice industry sales fell by $240 billion in 2020 from an expected level of $899 billion.

This winter, American Express and Resy launched Yurt Villages, a new covered, heated outdoor experience available exclusively for American Express card members.
Courtesy of American Express

This is the latest in a series of initiatives announced this month by American Express to support the restaurant community nationwide. 

Earlier this month, Amex extended its partnership with online reservations platform Resy to encourage Amex card holders to order take out from their favorite establishments more frequently, upping the rewards offers on many of its cards. Now through December 31, 2021, eligible Delta SkyMiles, Hilton Honors, and Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card Members can enroll in an offer to earn up to $220 in statement credits at U.S. restaurants, after they dine in or take out.

And in November 2020, Amex and Resy launched both a number of at-home dining experiences as well as Yurt Villages for isolated but elevated fine dining in collaboration with 15 restaurants in 13 cities nationwide. The covered, heated outdoor experience is available exclusively for American Express card members through the end of February. Amex card holders get access to special on-site perks when they dine, from bottled cocktails and sweet treats, to an additional exclusive course with their menu or VIP tour.