By: Phillip Heilman
After almost 15 years of serving pizza, pasta, calzones and other specialty menu items to Northeast Florida residents, Tony DeSimone found comfort in Friday nights.
That’s when his dining room would come alive with chatter, his phone lines would light up with to-go orders and a full kitchen staff would hustle to serve hungry patrons while others waited their turn to be seated.
“You can generally do two times the business of any other day on a Friday,” said DeSimone, owner and operator of Tony D’s New York Pizza and Restaurant. “It’s intense.”
Intense but rewarding as smiling faces and full stomachs assured DeSimone of a job well-done. It’s a scene he came to cherish since opening Tony D’s near Baymeadows Road in 2006. And it’s one he came to miss as the coronavirus pandemic forced him to close his dining room for about six weeks beginning March 20th.
DeSimone is among thousands of local small business owners who have had to adjust in response to the coronavirus. For some, that meant altering operations. For others, it meant temporarily closing. For just about everyone, it meant an uncertain path forward.
“I kept wondering what was next,” DeSimone said.
DeSimone’s question was answered with the help of VyStar. He was able to keep his staff of about 20 people intact, shuffling employees to different roles, such as training servers to be cashiers, rather than letting them go.
DeSimone, a VyStar Business Member, applied and was approved for funding through the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The PPP was designed to provide funding for payroll and other approved expenses for small businesses that have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus. Its primary purpose is to keep workers employed and receiving paychecks, a concern that weighed heavily on DeSimone’s mind because of the relationships he has built over time with his employees.
“He has a work family developed, and in his industry, that honestly is very rare,” said Megan Beatty, a Small Business Banker on VyStar’s Commercial Services team. “You have team members that have been with him from Day 1. You are looking at 13-plus years. We can’t cut them loose. We’ve got to do what we can to protect them as well because those are his family members.”
Beatty and DeSimone worked together throughout the PPP loan process, which required information such as tax documents, average monthly payroll costs, proof of mortgage or rent and utility expenses and more.
“I think I tortured Megan like every single day,” DeSimone joked.
Additional funding was required from Congress after the PPP initially ran out, and employees from departments across VyStar worked long hours to ensure local small business owners like DeSimone got the money they needed as quickly as possible.
That hard work has proven effective. VyStar has secured over $120 million in PPP funding for more than 3,400 local small business owners. That money has gone directly into the pockets of people in our community and been used for expenses like rent, childcare and other daily needs.
“The success story is when you get that phone call from a member thanking you and saying, ‘Guess what? I got funding today.’ That’s when the celebration starts happening,” Beatty said. “It brings the work being done to life and really makes it all worthwhile.”
What would DeSimone have done without PPP funding? Like the idea of running out of pepperoni for his pizzas — the most popular item on his menu — that is not an enjoyable thought.
“I was kind of asking myself the same question before we were able to get the money,” DeSimone said. “It allows us to really help the people that work for us, to keep payroll going, that type of thing. Without that, I would have probably drained everything I had.”
There is still plenty of work ahead for small business owners to return to normal operations. But with the help of VyStar, DeSimone is happy to still be cooking. His customers are, too.
“I hear it every single day, every day: ‘Thanks for being here. Thanks for staying open,’” DeSimone said. “I was like, ‘I am going to do the best I can with whatever I have.’ We rallied up a great crew of people.”
The information in this blog consists of the opinions and ideas of the author alone and should be used for informational purposes only. VyStar Credit Union disclaims any liability for decisions you make based on the information provided.