Van Golemis has known some of his regulars since he was a kid. He grew up at Tops Diner in East Newark, founded and owned for 20-some years by his dad George. Van took over Tops full time with his brothers in 1995, inheriting the responsibility of feeding the same folks his dad fed—a responsibility he’s grateful to still have.
But without the Paycheck Protection Program loan Tops got in April, Golemis said the diner, which was dubbed “best in America” in 2017 by Time Out Magazine, wouldn’t have survived the pandemic. “We’re lucky we were given the opportunity to navigate and stay alive with our business” due to the PPP, he said.
As of Jan. 27, he’s waiting to receive his second round of funding now, which just recently opened through his bank ConnectOne Bank on Jan. 19. He didn’t have much trouble with round one, and the second application was even easier than the first, he said, calling ConnectOne’s online application portal “streamlined and clear.”
ConnectOne Bank President and former Chief Lending Officer Liz Magennis said on the day after round two opened that she expected it to be calmer than the first. “Round one there was a lot of media hype, there was a lot of misinformation out there, I think people were panicked that the SBA was going to run to of money.
Now, they’re more comfortable with what they went through in the first round, so the expectations of what documents are needed, what to expect from us, definitely will be a lot calmer and organized,” Magennis explained. “I also think the professionals a lot of our clients deal with have more clarification on this round than round one [as] the SBA was changing the info and the media was reporting [at the same time that] we were trying to learn the idiosyncrasies.”
James Nesci, the president and CEO of Blue Foundry Bank in Parsippany-Troy Hills, said that lessons his team learned in round one allowed them to process loans more efficiently in the second round. Existing customers are already established in Blue Foundry’s system, which speeds the process for round two; and the bank’s retail branch system is working in support of its lending team.
“To date, we’ve already seen great success with round two. We have received more than 300 applications from the community comprised of both existing customers that participated in round one, as well as new customers,” Nesci said on Jan. 27.
Though round two has been less of a circus than round one, it’s not for lack of customers. Over the first two weeks of the new program, Blue Foundry Bank took in 50% of the number of applications received in all of round one, Nesci said. And at Wells Fargo, 2,562 applications were submitted with $131 million in requested funds in New Jersey alone just eight days in.
“There’s not one specific industry type jumping out. The best thing I convey to people it’s truly the small businesses [looking for PPP]. If you were to drive down your local main street in town, look to your left and right, it’s those companies, from your florists to restaurants to real estate companies. We’re seeing all different types on a daily basis,” said Bill Stump, northeast small business leader for Wells Fargo.
As of Jan. 24, the U.S. Small Business Administration said that small businesses in the accommodation and food service industry are the most common seekers of PPP, totaling 19% of applications, followed by construction at 14% and manufacturing at 11%.
Back in East Newark, Golemis called 2020 “the toughest year” in Tops Diner’s history, with a more than 40% loss from 2019. Adding insult to injury, Tops founder and Golemis family patriarch George succumbed to COVID-19 in the spring at age 72. But Golemis has people to serve. With indoor dining at 25%, many of his regulars are in often, and others have turned into Tops’ DoorDash and UberEats devotees.
Additionally, restaurants have access to more money in round two, as they can apply for up to three-and-a-half times their monthly payroll costs compared to two-and-a-half times monthly payroll in round one.
“We’re trying to stay upbeat. We were lucky to receive assistance in the first round of PPP, and with the combination of vaccine out now and [round two], we’re seeing the light,” Golemis said.