How I'm spending my stimulus check: 4 small business owners share how they'll put their $1,400 to use

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How I'm spending my stimulus check: 4 small business owners share how they'll put their $1,400 to use
Ashley Dikos and Andrew Martinez of Bo's Bagels.Courtesy of Andrew Martinez

  • A third round of stimulus checks have already landed in some Americans' bank accounts.
  • Insider spoke with four small business owners about how they plan to use their stimulus checks.
  • They said they'd renovate their storefronts, upgrade kitchen supplies, and keep employees on payroll.

This week, many Americans woke up to find an extra $1,400 in their bank accounts, part of the $1.9 trillion economic relief package that was signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11. The package includes many of the same benefits as last year's CARES Act, like relief for small business owners through tax credits and a second round of PPP loans.

Insider spoke with four small business owners from across the country on how they plan to use their latest stimulus checks. Here's what they said.

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Andrew Martinez, co-owner of Bo's Bagels in New York City

I opened Bo's Bagels in Harlem with my wife, Ashley, four years ago. Last year at this time, we were getting ready to open a second location in Michigan when the pandemic hit. We ended up backing out of the deal a couple weeks into lockdown; had we gone through with it, we'd probably be in a lot of trouble right now.

I knew from early on that the pandemic was going to take a significant toll on my business, so I told my staff to prepare and save their money. We only closed for a month, and initially started doing deliveries ourselves, but that became too brutal. We got to the point where we realized that we couldn't keep doing it, so we had to deal with DoorDash, UberEats, and Grubhub, even though they take a lot and really gouge small businesses.

The application process for the CARES Act was so complicated, the guidance for how to apply changed everyday. But eventually we were able to get a PPP loan for $67,000, which paid for one month of rent and the salaries of our employees for just a few weeks. Overall, our revenue was down 80% last year. We're still down 40% so far for this year, but we plan to apply for New York's Restaurant Recovery grant program.

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With the Recovery Act, we're hoping to get some money to pay our vendors and pay off some of our debts. We're still a month behind in rent. Before the pandemic, we didn't have any debt, so this is new to us. My wife and I plan to spend our $1,400 on personal expenses. Our daughter is applying to colleges, so some will go toward that.

Hana Nesbitt, owner of Field Day & Friends in Oakland, California

How I'm spending my stimulus check: 4 small business owners share how they'll put their $1,400 to use
Hana Nesbitt of Field Day & Friends.Courtesy of Hana Nesbitt

I bought Field Day & Friends last September, but the business was founded in early 2013. Before I bought the store, I was working as a product manager for several tech companies.

As we got closer to the holidays, I started doing virtual shop visits, using Calendly and Google Meet, and set up a bazaar-style shop from the sidewalk. On March 1, we opened with limited in-store capacity.

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We didn't qualify for a PPP loan last year, but we did receive a $5,000 grant from Alameda County in December. I got the email on Christmas morning, and I remember crying because that's what made it possible to pay our January rent.

I do feel worried for all my fellow small business owners, because there are a lot of hoops to jump through to even apply to some of this new federal relief. But I am cautiously optimistic.

The number one thing I'm looking forward to with this next stimulus is hiring back a team of employees. Right now it's just me, and it just isn't possible to be open seven days a week, eight hours a day. So if everything comes through like we are hoping, I should be doing interviews by April. I haven't been able to pay myself an income since I took over the store last year, so I'm also looking forward to paying my own rent.

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I also have plans to update the store - the space hasn't been painted in over seven years, so I'm working with a local artist to paint a mural in the store and support the art community in Oakland.

I feel like we've turned a corner in March, and I hope this summer will be substantially different than last. I'm also grieving all of the businesses we lost this past year, and hope more businesses are able to survive, because right now I'm surrounded by empty storefronts on both sides.

Richard Văn Lê, owner of Matta in Portland, Oregon

How I'm spending my stimulus check: 4 small business owners share how they'll put their $1,400 to use
Richard and Sophia Lê of Matta.Photo: @alexknowbody/Courtesy of Matta

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I started Matta with my wife Sophia in November 2018. As a first-generation Vietnamese American, it's always been important to me to tell my story of growing up here through food. At the end of 2019, we were named Portland's Food Cart of the Year by Eater PDX. Coming into 2020, we were hitting our stride as a business and working really hard to establish ourselves as a brand, and then the pandemic hit.

My wife and I are the only ones who run Matta, so we were not eligible for some of the loans other small businesses received to help with payroll. With this latest stimulus check, we want to take care of the thing that's been taking care of us: our cart.

The first two years we've been in business, we haven't been able to make any upgrades because we were focused on surviving. We want to add appliances to the cart. Right now I have a countertop electric fryer, but we're planning to purchase a propane fryer and install a propane line. We also want to hire a local artist to paint a mural on the cart.

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As a person that never really gets much from the government, it's nice to get a little something. This stimulus will help make our business better, so we are appreciative that something is being done.

Aniece Meinhold owner of Phuc Yeah in Miami, Florida

How I'm spending my stimulus check: 4 small business owners share how they'll put their $1,400 to use
Aniece Meinhold of Phuc Yeah.Courtesy of Aniece Meinhold

It's been exactly one year since we first shut down our restaurant. I remember the first week of March 2020 - sales decreased by 25%, and the next week was the same. Overnight we prepared to do takeout and delivery only. I was doing all the deliveries in my own car for the first month, but we were able to stay busy so we had to switch to the delivery apps, which I wasn't happy about because they take 30% of sales. At the beginning, we benefited a little from the CARES Act and received a PPP loan from a small local bank after having been denied by Chase.

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We used those funds to cover payroll and make sure our full-time staff was still able to stay on board and get paid. We also put UV lights on our air conditioners, installed hand sanitizer dispensers all over the restaurant, and made use of our outdoor space to accommodate social distancing.

With this next round of stimulus, I'm planning to use it to save and to keep paying our employees. My main concern is employee retention. Right now it's very difficult for me to find skilled cooks and servers, because some people are still benefiting from unemployment and taking advantage of other cash-based gigs.

Our space doesn't need a lot of upgrading, but I plan to use the stimulus check to purchase a patio enclosure for our front outdoor space. During May in Miami it rains nearly everyday, so I want people to still be able to come and eat outside. Last year I lost 30% of my revenue, and I'm still making it back up.

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As these next round of stimulus checks arrive, I hope people go out and spend them on local businesses in their neighborhood. I also hope they remember to express a little empathy for the people serving their food. We have to deal with so many different people of all walks of life, regardless of what they think about COVID. We're out here serving hundreds of people every single day, so please act with a little bit of consideration.

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