Gift card

A new project led by three area organizations aims to bolster local eateries as the restaurant industry continues to battle financial turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Government restrictions on dining capacities, in addition to general wariness of indoor spaces, have slashed revenues since March 2020, reducing profit margins for many local restaurants and causing several to close permanently.

In response, The Local Crowd (TLC) Monadnock is helping launch a “homegrown stimulus” effort next month that involves purchasing and distributing $10,000 in gift cards to more than two dozen Keene restaurants, according to TLC Monadnock program manager Jen Risley.

The Monadnock Restaurant Project organizers — which also include Culinary Journeys, a scholarship program for culinary arts students run by the Cheshire Career Center, and Food Connects, a Brattleboro nonprofit that supports local farms and food producers — expect residents will spend twice that amount when they redeem the gift cards, Risley said Monday.

“It could be a really rough few months for our fellow restaurateurs and if we don’t do something soon, we could lose some of the businesses on the edge,” Luca Paris, owner of Luca’s Mediterranean Cafe, said in a Jan. 21 news release announcing the project.

The 28 participating eateries are: 21 Bar & Grill, Amicci’s, Branch and Blade Brewing, Brewbakers Cafe, Brickhouse Pizza and Wings, CC&D’s Kitchen Market, Cherry Garden, Curry Indian Restaurant, Eat More Cake, Elm City Brewing Co., Fritz, Jim Eddie’s, Kristin’s Bistro & Bakery, Little Zoe’s Pizza, Machina Kitchen & ArtBar, Mi Jalisco, Monadnock Food Co-op, Taqueria Odelay, Pho Keene Great, Prime Roast, Salt & Lime, Street Savory, Thai Garden, The Farm Cafe, The Flight Deck, The Works Café, Tokyo Express and Yahso Jamaican Grille.

Paris, a member of the Culinary Journeys advisory board, chose not to participate in the project’s first round to give less-established eateries a larger share of the revenue, Risley said.

To speed its stimulus push, the Monadnock Restaurant Project plans to have several large companies in Keene distribute the gift cards among their employees in early February “with the instructions to spend [them] as soon as you can,” she explained.

Those companies — which include Moore Nanotechnology Systems, C&S Wholesale Grocers, Savings Bank of Walpole and Cheshire Medical Center — were selected because the project organizers felt their employees may be particularly inclined to dine out. (The Sentinel will also participate in the gift card giveaway though an upcoming contest for readers, which will be promoted through its print and digital publications.)

“We’re really trying to inspire people ... to go spend,” Risley said.

Projects organizers believe the impact to the local economy will be even greater than $20,000, pointing to a 2014 TLC Monadnock study that found locally owned retailers in the region return 62.4 percent of their revenue to the local economy, compared to 13.6 percent by national retailers. Based on that data, the stimulus effort could produce more than $32,000 in local economic activity on its initial $10,000 investment.

Risley said organizers also plan to launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for a second phase of the Monadnock Restaurant Project. And while the first phase will distribute gift cards to only Keene restaurants, she said subsequent efforts will likely include eateries outside of the Elm City.

Caleb Symons can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1420, or csymons@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @CalebSymonsKS.