Austin coffee shop co-owner says they're having to lay off employees for the second time due to COVID-19

Paycheck Protection Program loans were meant to help small businesses struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic continue to pay their staff. However, one Austin coffee shop co-owner says their loan is up and they're right back where they started, having to lay off employees for the second time.

Running for 11 years, there was supposed to be a third Bennu Coffee location in Austin, but because of COVID-19, that shop's grand opening was put on hold.

"It really was kind of going to be our dream coffee shop," said co-owner Stephanie Williams. "We took what we've learned in 11 years of business, and we put all those ideas into that shop."

Things got tough for the small business, and in March, they let go about two-thirds of their staff from both locations. Williams says it's because her shop wasn't making enough money to support them.

"I mean, it's devastating to be letting go of people who are like your family, and your business is like your baby. So you know, it's not just like losing a job. It's losing your family," Williams said.


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When PPP loans became an option, allowing businesses like Bennu Coffee to be able to pay their employees, Williams admits it sounded too good to be true. "We didn't foresee a time in the near future where we were going to be able to pay back loans. There just isn't that much money," she said.

That was until she found out the loans were forgivable if certain guidelines were followed. "Initially, the guidelines were that you would get the loan and you had to use 75% of it for payroll, you had to use it all within eight weeks of it hitting your bank account. And then the other 25% could be used for things like rent."

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The guidelines also stated businesses had to hire their staff back by a certain time frame. Williams says she made sure to do everything right, even hiring her employees back, but on the sixth week, the timeframe to use the loan was extended.

While it sounded good, Williams says it was too little, too late. Now with the loan up, Bennu Coffee is relying strictly on the money the shop makes, which isn't easy in these times. "We're having to let go the staff that we already let go of, you know, two or three months ago and hired back. And it's absolutely heartbreaking," she said.

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Williams says now more than ever, support local businesses because even if they won't admit it, it isn't easy. "I know things are really rough for everyone right now. But if you have a restaurant that you love and you want to see it after this is all over. We could use your support now more than ever," she said.


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