Chef Jose Duarte owns and operates three restaurants in the Boston area — including his flagship location, Taranta, in the North End.
The restaurant specializes in a unique fusion of Duarte's native Peruvian cuisine with the classic Italian cooking the North End is famous for.
“Peru has one of the most diverse gastronomic origins in the world, and my wife is Italian, so I basically had this idea of a marriage between Peruvian and Italian.”
When statewide shutdown orders went into effect in March, Chef Duarte, like tens of thousands of business owners across the state, essentially had to close shop. Now he doesn't know how he'll pay rent, especially at North End rates.
“This is a crisis and I understand it, and I’m not blaming anyone,” Duarte said. “But you know, I had a perfectly oiled machine working, you know? And all of a sudden, it stopped.”
Thousands of small businesses around Boston are in the same predicament. And there’s a lot of evidence that those owned by immigrants, like Duarte, and other racial and ethnic minority groups, have been among the hardest hit and also among the least likely to benefit from federal relief efforts. The Payroll Protection Program (PPP), for example, has been widely criticized — including by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh — for failing to reach to many actual small businesses.
So, many small businesses have turned to local sources of help — like a $2 million small business relief program Walsh announced in April, which is funded through federal grants and city taxpayer dollars.
Duarte applied for one of those grants.
“I received a notification saying that I had been selected for the second round, or something like that,” Duarte said.
But then: nothing.
“That was the end of the story. I never heard back,” he said.
The roughly $2 million Walsh initially pledged for the program has since been awarded, and the program is not currently accepting new applications.
Last week, Walsh pledged another $5.5 to the program to fund “all eligible grant requests” for which applications were already submitted, a spokesperson tells WGBH News.
But some City leaders are still asking the same kinds of questions about that program that Walsh has raised about federal relief funds — who did and didn’t get grants, and how were those decisions made?
City Council President Kim Janey represents the city’s 7th Distict, which includes the majority-black neighborhood of Roxbury, where, Janey said, small businesses are in dire straights.
“We need to understand immediately what the impact was, who got that money, and if it went to the people we intended it to go to,” Janey told WGBH News.
Janey was one of a number of council members who posed those questions in arecent hearing about the notion of an "equitable recovery."
“My district is a district where you see the disparities in our city play out on an every day basis,” Janey said. “And it’s critically important that we understand whether or not those funds got to the people who need it most.”
Council members didn't get those answers at the hearing — the Walsh administration sent a letter pledging to support the council's efforts, but didn’t provide anyone to testify at the council hearing.
The Walsh administration didn't provide details, which were requested by WGBH News, before press time. After this story was published and broadcast, city officials provided a list of recipients of grants from the Boston Small Business Relief Fund, as well as a breakdown of grant recipients by neighborhood and various demographic characteristics.
According to that breakdown, more than 50 percent of grants went to minority-owned businesses, 44 percent to immigrant-owned businesses, and 48 percent to businesses owned by women or whose owners identified as non-binary.
Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, who represents the city’s diverse 5th District — which includes Hyde Park and parts of Mattapan and Roslindale — was one of a number of Council members at the hearing to call on the administration to release more information on its grant process.
“Without data, without information, we can’t make informed decisions,” Arroyo said.
City Councilor Michelle Wu, who chaired the equitable recovery hearing and now chairs a new audit committee is calling for a hearing to study the grant program.
“However you're divvying up far too few mechanisms of support, someone will be left out, and more often than not, whether it's first-serve or a lottery system, if you're creating a system where people have to apply, to know about it to begin with, to be connected enough to [know] about an opportunity, the very places of greatest need will be left out,” Wu said.
It's not going to be an easy conversation. But, Wu says, that's exactly why we need to have it.
Clarification: This story has been updated to include information about the recipients of the small business relief program that the mayor's office sent after publication. It has also been updated to include the fact that an additional $5 million was made available for small business relief.