Nominations are now open for the program which will award money to 25 restaurants across the country in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
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A server sets a table in a restaurant

For the second straight year, American Express is partnering with the National Trust for Historic Preservation on the Backing Historic Small Restaurants grant program. The program will award 25 historic restaurants throughout the United States with $40,000 grants to improve or preserve their physical spaces, update their online presences, better serve existing (and future) customers, and recover from the ongoing challenges they've faced during the pandemic.

"Historic restaurants have long been some of the most important establishments in our communities," Jennifer Skyler, the Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at American Express, said in a statement. "They are places where families and friends gather, build relationships, share meals, and celebrate. While their future looks bright, many of these restaurants are still carrying the weight of the pandemic, and we are here to support them through this next phase of recovery."

Last year, the 25 restaurants that received $40,000 grants included the iconic Ben's Chili Bowl in Washington, D.C.; the historic Dooky Chase restaurant in New Orleans; El Cristo, which has been in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood for the past 50 years; and Sweetheart Cafe, the first boba milk tea shop in the California Bay Area.

The almost two century-old Neir's Tavern — which self-deprecatingly refers to itself as "The Most Famous Bar You've Never Heard Of" — credited the $40,000 grant that it received last year with helping it find additional ways to stay open and serve customers during the second year of the pandemic. "Learning that we were a recipient of a Backing Historic Small Restaurants grant during this bleak time gave us hope, and played a big role in our pandemic recovery," its owners said. " It allowed us to move forward with the much-needed outdoor renovations, including new signage and an awning. We also purchased new tables and chairs."

American Express would like to direct the program's efforts toward historic small restaurants that "have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Unfortunately, that category includes a lot of restaurants: according to a survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association, over half of the restaurant operators who responded said that it "would be a year or more" before their operations were back to normal. Almost every respondent (96 percent) said that they experienced "delays or shortages" because of pandemic-related supply chain complications, and they expected those challenges to continue this year. 

Beginning at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, March 21 and through 11:59 p.m. on Monday, April 4, the grant program is open for both formal nominations from restaurant owners and public nominations. Independent small restaurants that have been in business for 25 years or more, and that operate in historic buildings or historic neighborhoods are eligible to apply. (Restaurants owners can learn more about the program on the National Trust for Historic Preservation website. A webinar providing more information about the program will also be held on Wednesday, March 23 at 3 p.m. EST.) 

"American entrepreneurship is a defining aspect of our nation's heritage, and historic commercial landmarks are essential to community identity and economic vitality,"  Katherine Malone-France, the Chief Preservation Officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said in a statement. "This initiative acknowledges that legacy restaurants are not only welcoming spaces where people share their traditions and foodways, but also gathering places where history is made in meaningful ways, small and large, over and over again."