Flint, MI — On the back of a Harley Davidson Dyna Super Glide, Senator Gary Peters arrived to Flint’s 501 Bar & Grill, one of several scheduled stops on his annual motorcycle tour. 

“We’re going from Hell to Paradise,” Peters joked to Tim Herman, CEO of Flint & Genesee Group, and Manal Saab, part-owner of the restaurant, who greeted him on the corner of First Street and Saginaw.

Peters came to Flint on Aug. 23, to talk about the American Rescue Plan, a plan he helped pass in March that allows for provisions for small businesses like 501 Bar & Grill in downtown Flint. 

The American Rescue Plan includes $7 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, also known as PPP, and reauthorized $10 billion in federal funding to the State Small Business Credit Initiative which supports eligible small business financing programs including things like capital access programs, collateral support, and loan guarantees.

Before stepping before the news cameras, Peters spoke to 501 Bar & Grill’s manager Luis Fernandes.

“We were just talking about how the PPP has kept employees,” Fernandes said. “We also talked about the industry, how people are saying ‘Okay after the unemployment runs out, what’s going to happen?’”

Fernandes said the PPP program had certainly helped 501 Bar & Grill retain and pay employees through the pandemic. It also helped the restaurant get involved with food delivery apps.

“We didn’t have GrubHub, DoorDash, (or) UberEats,” Fernandes said. But now, he said, 501 is on all of them. 

As for what happens next for small business owners and staff, the answer seems more tricky.

“The only way to get through this pandemic,” said Peters, “we have to continue to stand up particularly for our small business owners and those who have small businesses that employ folks in the community.”

Though Peters did not offer further guidance on what standing up for small business owners might mean in relation to the American Rescue Plan, a press assistant said the senator will review any legislation related to extending benefits or addressing COVID-19 that comes to the Senate floor.

“This is an opportunity to make the kinds of investments we should have been making for years,” Senator Peters said in closing, having spoken of PPP, child tax credits, and upcoming infrastructure spending. “Now’s the time to be making those investments, making sure that our small businesses are healthy and growing the economy.”

Back in the main dining room, Fernandes said that 501 Bar & Grill has been incredibly fortunate, having received enough money through PPP and the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (another part of the American Rescue Plan) to carry them through the end of the year.

But Fernandes said he’s still concerned with hiring and retaining staff (the restaurant is only able to open five and a half of its normally seven operating days due to staff shortages) and possible sales dips as the Delta variant of COVID-19 rises.

“I’m always worried about going backwards. … You have to have some sense of normalcy,” he said, adding that he hopes things stay open, staffing improves, and business continues to pick up with the help of grants and vaccination. “But you’ve got to be cautious, too.”

The senator’s tour started in Hell, Mich., and will continue on to Paradise, Mich., a township in the upper peninsula.

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....