California Restaurant Foundation awards grants to 162 Orange County restaurants

Georgia's owner Nika Shoemaker-Machado
Georgia’s owner Nika Shoemaker-Machado stands in her Georgia’s Restaurant in the Anaheim Packing District food mall in Anaheim. She was recently awarded a California Restaurant Foundation grant to be used on equipment upgrades or retention bonuses.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

In 2021, 318 California restaurants received Restaurants Care Resilience Fund grants through the California Restaurant Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to investing in and empowering California restaurants and their workforce. In 2022, the number of grants awarded increased to 356.

“Our foundation is really proud to be offering $3,000 grants to 356 neighborhood restaurants throughout California to fund either retention bonuses for staff or kitchen upgrades,” said Alycia Harshfield, executive director of the foundation.

A donation of $525,000 from SoCalGas helped fund grants in their service territory, which made Orange County restaurants eligible to apply for the fund for the first time.

“Thirty-six percent of the 162 restaurants from SoCalGas’ territory are in Orange County,” said Harshfield, “and 70% are woman-owned businesses.”

Among the recipients is Georgia’s Restaurant, a soul food concept at the Anaheim Packing House.

“Since we were members of the California Restaurant Foundation, they sent us out the email to let us know it existed,” Nika Shoemaker-Machado said of the grant, “which was great.”

Shoemaker-Machado owns Georgia’s with her husband, Marlon, and her mother, Gretchen, and serves classic dishes like fried catfish, red beans and rice and jambalaya — all based on family recipes. The restaurant is among the Packing House’s original tenants.

A spicy crispy chicken sandwich and fries at Georgia's Restaurant in the Anaheim Packing District food mall in Anaheim.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“We were really, really happy when we got this location,” said Shoemaker-Machado. “It felt like home.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Shoemaker-Machado said her husband applied early on for assistance that helped get them through the shutdown.

“In that aspect, we were very lucky because in the first round my husband was on top of it,” Shoemaker-Machado said. “But that was scary for so many people. It was scary because even if you got it, you still didn’t know the viability of it.”

Georgia’s offered fried chicken family meals to go during the shutdown and was the first Packing House business to reopen once restrictions were lifted.

“April 1, we opened up here,” said Shoemaker-Machado. “We were the only thing open for the whole month of April. Then the Kroft joined us. For the first month we were just trying to promote our Grubhub and all of that.”

The Restaurants Care Resilience Fund provided another opportunity for the restaurant.

“This was a grant that Marlon looked at and said, yeah we should apply for this just like everything else,” Shoemaker-Machado said. “To be honest, we applied for almost everything they said we could be eligible for.”

The grants were open to independent restaurant owners in Los Angeles, Orange County, the Inland Empire and Central California, and applications were reviewed by committee, with a section for restaurant owners to share their story and talk about how they would use the funds.

Shoemaker-Machado said her family would use the grant to offset the cost of a new oven.

“The oven is really the heart of our business,” Shoemaker-Machado said. “My mom comes from the mindset that our food is great when it is slow-cooked on a low temperature for longer times. So we do lot of things like ribs or our pulled pork in there. Plus we are throwing chili cheese fries and all that kind of stuff in for a few minutes.”

Nika Shoemaker-Machado stands in her Georgia's Restaurant in Anaheim.
Nika Shoemaker-Machado stands in her Georgia’s Restaurant in the Anaheim Packing District food mall.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Georgia’s oven has put in work over the years, and Shoemaker-Machado said they are due for a replacement.

“The oven here is truly an important piece, but it’s old. Equipment gets old,” she said. “It’s got a lot of miles on it.”

Harshfield said the foundation focused on kitchen and crews because it recognized restaurants have struggled to maintain or replace expensive equipment post-pandemic.

“They have had to defer maintenance or upgrades in their restaurant because they are just trying to keep the doors open,” Harshfield said.

Harshfield said new equipment can also boost morale.

“A new griddle or a new fryer means your job is a lot easier,” said Harshfield. “That is good thing too. That investment in the infrastructure is a good thing.”

Shoemaker-Machado said her family and the entire Georgia’s team is grateful for the grant.

“It is very exciting to hear that we got it,” said Shoemaker-Machado, “because it is welcomed assistance.”

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