Opinion: Biden’s action and federal relief kept local restaurant alive during pandemic

Abby Drey/adrey@centredaily.com
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After more than 50 years in the restaurant industry, my wife Monica and I talk constantly about what we can do to help our community grow and be transformative for the food industry. With the chance to be environmentally proactive and working within our local food system, we were convinced that opening a fine-dining restaurant on our own State College farm was the right thing to do, and the right time to do it. We felt deeply that our town would benefit from a fine-dining concept that was a teaching environment and gathering space not only for restaurateurs, but for the whole community. So we purchased Windswept Farm in 2017 and opened RE Farm Cafe in July 2019. Right as we got things rolling, the pandemic hit.

I won’t lie, times were tough. And without the decisive recovery efforts by President Biden and other Democrats in Congress, we’d still be in a world of hurt. Most assuredly, our RE Farm Cafe at Windswept would not have survived without the federal relief we received.

The financial support from President Biden’s American Rescue Plan and other federal funding allowed us to not only keep our highly trained farm and cafe staff working, but also helped with improvements to provide additional outdoor dining options and farm efficiency. Our own Windswept Farm supplies more than half of the foods for the cafe, and almost all other food is locally sourced from other farms.

The availability of nationally sourced operational goods, such as takeout containers, gloves, masks and more was sometimes challenging, but the President’s recent actions to alleviate the supply-chain issues have helped us be successful. President Biden refuses to sit on the sidelines while small businesses feel the pain of shipping delays, which is why the White House has taken new steps to continue shipping progress. From waiving cumbersome fees for truck drivers to unclogging ports by incentivizing fast container pickup, extending hours, and ensuring ocean containers aren’t dwelling at the ports and slowing progress — these changes mean a world of difference for small businesses like ours. Without the decisive action of President Biden and this administration, I don’t know where we would be.

Our challenges are not unique for a small business, luckily, we were more well-positioned than many. Things like our filtered ventilation, easily sanitized surfaces and, most importantly, a well-trained staff committed to guest safety, put us in the best possible position to weather the storm. Our design decisions allowed for operational flexibility as we reacted to the daily challenges of the pandemic, but we still needed a boost and strong federal support in trying times. It seemed almost daily, we had to reinvent ourselves to be resilient. Because RE Farm Cafe is part of a working 57-acre farm with livestock, it was never an option to just close the doors and abandon the animals, the cafe supports the farm financially and we wanted to be there for our employees and community.

The last 18 months have tried and tested small business owners everywhere. It is not easy providing a living wage, health care and retirement benefits to workers while remaining competitive with big corporations. Many have faced layoffs and others have had to close their doors. We were lucky at RE Farm to use President Biden’s American Rescue Plan funds through the Centre County Disaster Relief program to stay afloat in difficult times.

We want to see other small businesses thrive the way we have. While Republicans continue to root against the economy, President Biden and Democrats have taken action to strengthen our supply chains and lower costs for American families. In a historic step to further set businesses up for success, the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will rebuild, expand and improve the infrastructure of our ports and rail lines which will continue advancing our supply chain capabilities, create more jobs and lower prices.

Lawmakers in Washington talk a lot about serving small businesses, but for too long in this country, the interests of big corporations and the ultra-wealthy have been given priority. Finally, that is changing. When you invest in small businesses, you’re investing in working families and local communities like ours here in Happy Valley.

Duke Gastiger is the m anaging LLC member of RE Farm Café and Windswept Farm.

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