If the thought of applying for a grant to open your restaurant makes you a little apprehensive, be of good cheer. Others have gone down this path--many for the very first time--and emerged from the process with the cash and confidence necessary to open the bistro of their dreams. The search for granting agencies can be arduous, but like all worthwhile goals, your journey will prove successful if you make a game plan, stick to it and are precise about the paperwork gauntlet you'll need to surmount when you make application to granting agencies. Sometimes it helps to picture yourself attaining your goal--for example, imagine hanging your "Open for business" sign--as you meander through the bureaucratic paperwork that will take you there.
Take advantage of any minority population into which you fit. There's no argument that grant funds are more readily available than ever for African-Americans, women, Latinos, those with disabilities or special needs, veterans and other special groups. Taking a targeted approach can help you unearth appropriate granting agencies seeking to disburse funds to people of specific cultural backgrounds. Find them by undertaking Internet searches using your gender, nationality or cultural affiliation as a keyword.
Search nonprofits that are known to give grant funds to entrepreneurs seeking to break in to the food service, hospitality and other restaurant-related businesses. Include the National Restaurant Association, trade unions affiliated with these industries and small business associations seeking to help those wanting to open an eatery. Don't waste time soliciting the Small Business Association (SBA) for a grant--the SBA isn't in the business of giving grants. But if you can't find any other funding, you can apply to the SBA for a small business start-up loan.
Locate a copy of the "Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance." This government-supported grant-locator service updates listings on available grants regularly, but be aware of the fact that there's a direct correlation between the nation's fiscal health and the amount of grant funds that are made available to applicants via this service.
Create a solid business plan for your future restaurant. The more evidence you give of your seriousness of purpose, the more successful your application will be when you compete with others for finite grant funds. Your business plan must include realistic financial projections for up to 5 years, a comprehensive operations plan, an outline of how your business will be managed, a marketing strategy, competitive analysis, long-term capital projections and solid references. Without this critically important plan, even the most earnest grant application efforts may be thwarted.
Request application packets from viable grantors once your business plan is complete. There's no restriction on the number of applications a future restaurateur is allowed to make, and since all granting agencies have different deadlines, you'll be able to even out the spacing of paperwork completion and deadlines. Don't make the mistake, however, of using a "one-size-fits-all" approach. Using your business plan as a base, treat all applications distinctly by customizing applications to each granting agency.
Be prepared to write a statement about why you think you deserve a grant to open your restaurant. Like college admission applications, granting bodies want to know what's motivating your actions. Tell them. And don't hesitate to ask for help evaluating your statement and/or completed grant paperwork before you put them in the mail. Ask trusted friends and relatives to critically evaluate everything from open-ended question responses to spelling and grammar errors you may have missed.
Avoid being tossed out of the competition by missing deadlines. Grant makers set application deadlines for several reasons. First, those sitting on granting panels must read thousands of pages of forms plus reams of supporting materials from applicants, so they require your compliance. Timely submissions are also a litmus test for grantors: they know that applicants who honor deadlines can be counted on to be responsible for meeting other rules and regulations. After all, if you can't get this all-important request for funding in on time, how will you show that you're responsible enough to open and run a restaurant?
- Hijaak PhotoArt Vol. 1; IMSI®