The owners of an Indian restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia got the opportunity to sit down for a virtual chat with President Joe Biden on how Covid-19 has affected their business.
It was part of the President’s weekly conversation where he speaks to small businesses and learns about their challenges.
In a video released by the White House, President Biden was seen in a remote conversation with Neal and Samir Idnani, the owners of NaanStop, where they are seen sharing the hardship they are going through because of the pandemic and also their opinion on what more the government could do.
“We’ve got to give you a chance to rebuild,” Biden said in a conversation with the Idnanis.
Neal Idnani told indica News that a few weeks ago they were also chosen to speak with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen about the challenges small businesses are facing.
“It was an honor talking to both President Biden and Secretary Yellen,” Neal said. “If we can be helping America and our opinion is of value then we are happy to do it and honored to do it.”
Neal said they spoke about how the labor market is challenging. It’s still tough to find employees. There are many people who are not able to ride due to child care; in lower-paying jobs people have to commute long hours on public transport.
Naanstop has three restaurants, the first of which opened in 2012.
Asked if they were nervous about speaking with the President, Neal, who is four years younger than Samir, said: “Of course you get nervous! But he was genuine and kind, to put us on ease. We spoke for about 20 minutes.”
President Biden started out with: “How’re you guys doing?… What is the greatest need you have now for your restaurants to be able to survive?”
Neal said their greatest need is for everyone to be vaccinated so people can go out again.
During the talk, Neal and Samir shared their concern on the paycheck protection plan, based on their own experience. Neal told indica News that the paycheck protection plan “absolutely was very helpful.”
“The challenge the first time was it was all happening so fast there was no clear guidance on which form to fill out. They were releasing multiple versions of the same form. Even the banks did not even have the right forms to fill out,” he pointed out.
He said even though they had all papers ready they did not get the funding the first time; they succeed in getting the second.
“A lot of people don’t understand which options are the best for them. It takes a lot of work to very clearly understand the document, how you are spending the funds and apply for reimbursement. And how to allocate that spending,” Neal Idnani said.
“A small business with fewer than five employees, don’t have the time and resources
to read the federal code. We are fortunate to have a good accountant,” he added.
“There is no clear paper and you are left to your own,” he said.
He said the money they got helped for two months.
“You need support and guide on how to apply for the right grants in the right way. PPP money 60 percent has to be used on employment and the restaurant has seen 75 percent down overnight since nearby office businesses are closed,” he said.
At present only outside seating is allowed in Atlanta, but Neal said the number of people dining out is too few.
“We are expecting the economy won’t come roaring back in 2022-23 and it is going to take time. The loans are essential as businesses are expecting to be down for quite some time,” he said.
“We are surviving but we are not thriving and we will continue to make it even though many restaurants are folding up,” said Neal.
Along with the restaurants’ drive-through pick-up option, they also have a set-up at home to support the local school and have donated not only food but money as well.
Asked if he had done any culinary courses, Neal credited his mother who loved to cook. The idea to be a restaurateur, he said generated when he lost his job at a hedge fund company in Chicago in 2009 and joined Jimmy John’s restaurant chain there to learn how the business works.
After that, Neal opened a food truck business and then decided to open a restaurant in Atlanta.
“With our experience growing up in America and our mother’s cooking and we have
blended these two things and have created a place, where Indian foods seem comfortable approachable and something easy to have every day,” Neal said.