By Rachael Cardin

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Many Baltimore restaurants that have struggled through the COVID-19 pandemic have found themselves unable to get crucial federal rescue dollars.

Restaurants like Joe Benny’s in Little Italy are fighting to stay staffed without access to Restaurant Revitalization Funding through the Small Business Administration.

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Joe Benny’s has cut its hours. Right now, they’re only open for dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Owner Joe Gardella said he’s behind on bills but never laid off an employee. He often pays his workers out of pocket and even takes on multiple jobs just to keep the restaurant afloat.

Gardella said he thinks he is cursed. “We joke all the time, ‘Who the hell put the curse on me?’ because it is one thing after another,” he said. “The pandemic, the money we couldn’t get, the staffing, I mean when is it going to end?”

Gardella said he applied for the SBA funding the first chance he got.

“Day one, hour one, I put in my application and it been under review for the last few months,” he said.

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Without that money, he can’t staff his restaurant, which led him to cut his hours, which means less revenue for the restaurant. In turn, Gardella said, he’s been late in some bills.

“I just cannot afford it. We have had to maintain these low hours because I cannot find dependable help and, when I do, are they going to stick around?” Gardella said.

Last week, protesters rallied against Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to cut off supplemental unemployment funding from the federal government. Unemployed workers successfully got a Baltimore City judge to issue an injunction that prevented that part Hogan’s order from taking effect. The federal benefits are set to expire Sept. 6.

Unemployed workers last week said the benefits were critical to keeping their livelihoods.

Gardella said he is actively looking for people like them and suggested that people are choosing to stay on unemployment rather than seek work.

“If there are more funds, please try to get it to the little guys,” Gardella said. “I have done research and a lot of the big guys have gotten help, which is cool — they have families and employees that need to get paid, but the smaller guy could really use some help right now. Big time.”

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Gardella is hiring servers, prep workers and dishwashers. More information about the restaurant is available on their website.

Rachael Cardin