On Monday, July 6, the Small Business Administration (SBA) made public a list of companies that have been granted Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans of $150,000 or more. Among the newly identified businesses are restaurant chains and big-name restaurants including the French Laundry, which received between $2 million and $5 million, and P.F. Chang’s, which was granted between $5 million and $10 million. The list does not specify exact amounts.
When the coronavirus pandemic first led to mandated temporary closures, many restaurant and bar owners turned to the PPP loan, made available by the SBA. But by April 16, just two weeks after the loan program was announced, the first wave of funding had already been depleted. That was, in large part, because major restaurant chains like Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Shake Shack, and Sweetgreen were granted loans, thanks to a loophole in the loan program: As long as chains had less than 500 employees per location, they could apply for the loan.
These restaurant titans were widely criticized for taking government assistance when so many small businesses were left to struggle, and after a fair share of public shaming, many of the loans secured by major chains were returned.
Despite the blowback, it seems that major chains have continued to apply for and receive large amounts of funding through the loan program. TGI Friday’s, Ruby Tuesday, and Chop’t each received loans between $5 million and $10 million, according to the list. Individual franchises of major chains including McDonald’s, Subway, and Chick-Fil-A also showed up hundreds of times on the list, with loans ranging from $150,000 to more than $1 million each.
The release of this list comes on the heels of the extension of the loan application deadline from June 30 until August 8, with more than $100 billion in loans yet to be granted. Though major chains have been discouraged from applying for assistance, the 500 employee loophole remains in place, allowing them to continue receiving loans intended to support small businesses.
The SBA released this list in an effort to increase transparency, and give the public a better understanding of where many billions of taxpayer dollars are being directed. However, the accuracy of the newly released list has already been called into question. On Twitter, the electric scooter company Bird noted that while the company never finished and submitted an application for a PPP loan, they still showed up on the updated list of loan recipients, marked as having received between $5 million and $10 million. As of publication, Bird was still waiting for an explanation from the SBA as to why they were listed.
An official with the SBA told Mashable that “a loan could appear in the data if the lender didn’t officially cancel it after returning the money.” That may explain why some companies were listed even after returning their loans. It does not, however, explain why a company like Bird — whose founder shared on Twitter that the company spoke with CitiBank, but ultimately decided not to apply for a loan — ended up on the list.
Reached for comment, a CitiBank spokesperson told Eater that the bank “has not funded a PPP loan for Bird.” The venture capital firm Index Ventures also took to Twitter to clarify that, while they were listed as a loan recipient, they never applied for or received PPP funding.
Considering the overwhelmingly negative reactions major companies have faced for taking advantage of PPP loans, companies may be less than forthcoming about receiving funds in order to avoid fallout. More likely, though, is that the same system which accidentally granted — and then canceled — more than $100 million in duplicate loans, and has given out millions of dollars to large businesses, continues to lack the efficiency and transparency necessary to effectively support small businesses, or even report properly on its own numbers.
In attempts to clarify what went wrong and who is responsible, Eater has reached out to the SBA for comment on the process of creating the list, and any mistakes that might have been made along the way. Several of the restaurants listed have also been contacted for comment, as have the companies that are denying applying for PPP loans despite their placement on the SBA’s list. As of publication time, they have not responded. The story will be updated if and when they do.