A New Bern restaurant nearly fell victim to the pandemic, but customers of Sweet Pea’s Cafe are trying to stop that from happening.
“It’s not pity. We want Sweet Pea’s to stay open,” said Christopher Clark, a loyal customer of the Trent Road eatery. “They provide great customer service and such a relaxing atmosphere.”
Clark started a GoFundMe page, which has raised approximately $2,100 of the $35,000 goal over the past two weeks.
The story of the little restaurant began in 2015 when Karen Miller opened Sweet Pea’s Cafe on Middle Street in downtown New Bern. Two years later, she sold the business to focus on her catering.
But when the new owners closed the restaurant, Miller decided to reopen in the current location on Trent Road.
She said she originally sold the downtown location because she could not operate her catering business out of the building.
When she reopened, she was lucky enough to find a space where she operates both the restaurant and her catering company, the Posh Palate Caterers, which also provides event planning and rental services.
Among its many offerings, Sweet Pea’s menu includes homemade baked goods, quiches, frittatas, salads, sandwiches, strombolis, stuffed meatballs and breakfast food. Nearly everything is made fresh in their kitchen, Miller said.
Then the pandemic hit and restaurants across the nation struggled to find their footing.
Miller said that despite the loss of revenue, she kept the doors open by paying most of the bills and staff out of her own pocket. Her landlord helped by waiving her rent for nine months.
PHOTOS: Sweet Pea’s Cafe
“I did not qualify for the PPP loan because I did not have enough employees,” she said “But with help from the Craven Community College Small Business Program, I was able to apply for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund grant.”
According to the Small Business Administration website, the American Rescue Plan Act established the Restaurant Revitalization Fund to help restaurants and other eligible businesses keep their doors open. The program provided restaurants with funding equal to their pandemic-related revenue losses up to $10 million per business and no more than $5 million per physical location. The funds do not have to be repaid as long as funds are used for eligible uses no later than March 11, 2023.
Miller said that shortly after applying, she received a commitment letter for $75,000, but that she had to submit more documentation to complete the process.
After weeks of waiting, her application was still being processed.
Finally, she asked to speak to a supervisor. What she heard next was devastating, she said.
The representative told her that after she sent the additional documents in, her application was never put back in the rotation. By the time Miller found out, it was too late — the funds were gone.
“It was kind of like having a winning lottery ticket and then losing it,” she said.
Now, her business is struggling to keep the doors open. “I have exhausted all of my savings.”
Clark, a frequent customer at the restaurant, heard about the financial troubles and wanted to help, so he started to crowdfund. His motivation was simple.
“I love Sweet Pea’s,” he said. “Karen has a niche market, and I really think she should stay open.”
Sweet Pea’s is located at 3515 Trent Road, Suite 6, New Bern. Hours are 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. The restaurant is closed on Sunday.
For more information or to place an order, call 252-637-6695 or visit sweetpeasnb.com.
Read More:New Bern restaurant struggling to keep doors open