William “Trey” Owens was elated when he got word Monday that his Soul Taco restaurants in Richmond had received a $3,000 grant to help the budding business stay afloat and continue operating during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I had to do everything in my power from screaming in his ear when he told me,” Owens said when he got the phone call from technology entrepreneur Pete Snyder, founder of the Virginia 30 Day Fund.
“We have been trying to come up with a plan to stay in the fight and to keep it going,” Owens said about his restaurants in Jackson Ward and in downtown Richmond. “For them [Virginia 30 Day Fund] to pick us, it was like wow. I still don’t have the words for it and I am rarely speechless.”
The Virginia 30 Day Fund, created three weeks ago, has helped more than 100 small businesses in Virginia by giving each a $3,000 forgivable loan.
Soul Taco was the 100th business to receive the funding — a significant milestone, said Snyder, who said he hopes his fund will be able to provide financing for hundreds more at-risk small businesses in the weeks and months ahead.
About 15 other small businesses in the Richmond region have received funding.
“We are trying to give them a lifeline,” Snyder said. “Small businesses are struggling and they need help now.”
The idea behind the nonprofit Virginia 30 Day Fund is to provide the businesses with immediate financial assistance to meet payroll, pay rent, preserve health care coverage for employees and save jobs while they await federal assistance.
“We realized there would be a gap of actual dollars while they wait for relief from the federal government,” said Snyder, also the CEO of Disruptor Capital, a Northern Virginia-based venture capital firm. “The system is not working right now. So many small businesses are struggling and are trying to navigate the federal landscape.”
The fund is designed to save jobs while boosting Virginia’s small businesses immediately.
“Sometimes the private sector moves a lot more quickly than the public sector,” said Snyder, who unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor in 2013 and has been publicly considering a bid for the Republican nomination for governor next year.
Snyder and his wife, Burson, kicked off the Virginia 30 Day Fund in early April by infusing the nonprofit with $100,000 of their own money. (Snyder’s Disruptor Capital private equity fund has invested in 14 businesses, some of which are based in Virginia, including Ledbury, a seller of high-end men’s shirts, accessories and other clothing that has its headquarters in downtown Richmond.)
Since then, the Virginia 30 Day Fund has raised an additional $550,000 from philanthropists, entrepreneurs, small-business owners and others.
Some of its contributors have given small amounts, he said. “It is not just big businesses and big check writers contributing.”
More than 1,700 applications from small businesses have been received so far, he said.
About 15% of applicants don’t qualify. For instance, the business may have too many or too few employees or it is not based in Virginia.
To qualify, businesses must employ three to 30 people; be based in Virginia and have operated for at least one year; and be owned and operated by a Virginia resident.
The application process is designed to be quick and easy for owners, Snyder said. It can all be done from a smartphone.
There is a one-page form to fill out. Owners also must submit a video — up to three minutes long — about the business and its employees.
A decision is made within three business days. Approved businesses can expect an immediate money transfer.
“We look at how they will be using the funds — are they the most at risk and the most in need and can they survive,” Snyder said about the decision-making process.
The $3,000 given to businesses does not need to be repaid, Snyder said. However, he encourages businesses receiving money to consider “paying it forward” at a later date, if they can, to help another small business in need of assistance or to direct those dollars back to the fund.
Some of the companies in the Richmond region receiving money from the fund, he said, include Rappahannock Oyster Co., Groovin’ Gourmet catering, Chez Foushee restaurant, Julep’s New Southern Cuisine restaurant, Goochland Drive-In Theater, Allusions Barber-Beauty Studio salon in Petersburg, Sarah Sits-N-Stays pet sitting services and Latitude Seafood restaurants.
Soul Taco’s Owens said he and his business partners had applied for federal relief funding but haven’t received anything.
They applied to receive money from the Virginia 30 Day Fund about a week or so ago. It took him longer to do the application because of problems he was having with the video. “I’m glad I didn’t give up.”
Soul Taco opened at 321 N. Second St. in Jackson Ward in October 2018. He and his partners opened a second location at 1215 E. Main St.
The restaurants were featured in January on an episode of the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” with celebrity chef Guy Fieri.
“The last two years have been amazing,” Owens said. “When you decide to go into business you want to weigh the pros and cons and most restaurants fail in the first two years. To have the reception I have had in the city where I was born and raised is super rewarding and challenging but it has definitely been worth it.”