By David Sutta

FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – A majority of South Florida’s hardest-hit businesses are struggling to keep employees.

Despite applying for federal and state funds, most have yet to see any money.

Florida International University is changing that for more than 150 locally owned and operated restaurants.

Alex Kuk is the owner of Temple Street Eatery, a Fort Lauderdale staple. He’s watched over the last couple of weeks as his business industry has been decimated.

“Across the street from us laid off 350 employees. Two other restaurants down the street fired all their employees. The small restaurant group laid off all their staff except management staff. The restaurant down the street has already closed. We are one of the lucky ones, still open to service our community,” he said.

Kuk has been trying to keep payroll going for his team but it has become increasingly challenging. Then he got a call from Florida International University, where he graduated from, offering to help.

“There are no words. It’s a partnership that we were able to be there for them and they are there for us. We are grateful. I guess that’s the best word to say, grateful,” said Kuk.

Michael Cheng, the Dean of the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management said the money comes from the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. FIU hospitality alumni typically volunteer to run the event. So now, FIU is stepping up for their alumni.

“The first initial $500,000 came from the South Beach Wine and Food Festival proceeds that normally would have gone to the school for operating costs and scholarships. What we decided is we should allocate that $500,000 and then we raised another $250,000 from Bacardi USA, $100,000 from Badia Spices, and the remainder to get up to $1 million was raised by the South Beach Wine and Food team.”

The program gives businesses $500 per employee, the funds going directly to employees.

“I think they launched it about 10 days ago. Three days later they made the website and went live. Then five days after that I got an email that we were approved. Yesterday we were jumping up and down because we got this in the mail. It was actually a live check!” said an excited Kuk.

It’s one thing to apply for a program, it’s another to get the money.

“Right, exactly, and that’s what amazing about Lee and the school,” said Kuk.

Lee Schrager is the founder of the South Beach Wine and Food Festival)

Kuk’s customers were grateful as well that FIU stepped in to help.

“It’s a fabulous thing that FIU is doing, helping to keep the local restaurants up and running,” said Wendy Liebowitz.

So far 55 restaurateurs have received checks of about $400,000. FIU expects another 100 restaurants will receive funds in the near future.

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