US burger chain Shake Shack to return US$10 million government loan

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NEW YORK – Inc said it will the small business it received from the US government, making it the first major firm to hand back money provided to help businesses ride out the impact of the coronavirus lockdown.

The company will immediately return the entire US$10 US Small Business Administration (SBA) loan as it was able to raise additional capital, CEO Randy Garutti and founder Danny Meyer said in a blog post on Monday (April 20).

Shares of Shake Shack, which raised about US$150 million in an equity offering last week, fell about 3% to US$42 on Monday morning.

SBA, which is a key part of the US government’s US$2.2 trillion aid package, is aimed at helping small companies keep paying their employees and their basic bills during the shutdowns so that they are able to reopen quickly when public health allows.

More than 25% of the total US$350 billion fund went to fewer than 2% of the firms that got relief, including a number of publicly traded companies with thousands of employees and hundreds of millions of dollars in annual sales.

This led to a backlash from smaller establishments and mom-and-pop restaurants, one of the hardest-hit sectors as diners stay at home due to lockdowns.

Ruth Hospitality Group Inc, Potbelly Corp and Fiesta Restaurant Group’s Texas Taco Cabana are among the chains that have borrowed money.

Several franchises of McDonald’s Corp and Dunkin’Brands Group Inc are also said to have applied for the loan. “If this act were written for small businesses, how is it possible that so many independent restaurants whose employees needed just as much help were unable to receive funding?” Garutti and Meyer wrote.

Shake Shack said the money it received could be reallocated to the independent restaurants “who need it most, (and) haven’t gotten any assistance.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a tweet said he was “glad to see” that Shake Shack would return the loan. Mnuchin told CNN on Sunday that a deal being discussed with Congress would include US$300 billion more for the Paycheck Protection Program loan programme for small businesses.

US President Donald Trump said on Sunday Democrats and Republicans were nearing an agreement on extra money to help small businesses. Trump defended restaurant chains, hotel operators and hedge funds accessing funding meant for small businesses.

Shake Shack runs around 189 restaurants in the United States, with about 45 employees in each outlet. The company closed about half of its 120 locations worldwide, and furloughed or laid off more than 1,000 employees after sales fell 28.5% in March.

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