HELENA — The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many businesses to trim the fat off any unnecessary expenses. Bad Betty’s Barbecue in Helena was no exception.
COVID-19 arrived in Montana less than half a year after the street access to the barbecue restaurant had been closed for several months
“We were at survival levels,” said owner Calvin Richards. “We were probably able to pay our bills for a few more months but long term, coming off of what we did last year we certainly didn’t have any money in the bank to get us through another downturn.”
Bad Betty’s was able to adapt to the situation by bringing back their old “Brisket Bus” food truck.
“The community has been amazing,” said Richards. “Everyone was going to food trucks and supporting local, and we really felt it. Every one of us food trucks were killing it, but once other places started opening back up we saw our number begin to go down.”
Things were still tight but doable for Bad Betty’s.
When Governor Bullock announced COVID relief grants using CARES Act funding, Richards took advantage of the help.
Bad Betty’s applied and have been approved for a $10,000 Business Stabilization grant to help with bills.
They’re also the recipient of a $10,000 Food and Agriculture Adaptability grant which they’ll use to build the infrastructure to butcher meat in-house.
Richards initially didn’t think he qualified for the grant.
“I was looking at it more of, oh hey agriculture, maybe I’ll go start a pig farm with this grant,” said Richards. “But I read through it and it was really more about what I have been saying for years, and what I recognized as the problem here that there is a disconnect between the producers and the people. Especially through restaurants where we have to have USDA approved or stamped food or meats to be able to resale.”
Richards says the grant will allow him to partner with local ranchers to buy animals, have them slaughtered by a USDA approved facility, and then butcher his own meat for the store.
It will also open up the possibility for the shop to make hams, bacon, burger, and other whole meat items for sale.
“Now we’re able to help the local producer. While you’re paying six, seven dollars a pound for chuck roast or for a burger at the shop, the producer isn’t making that much. He’s getting paid less than the market was last year, far less just so he can move his product, his animals,” expelled Richards.“
Bad Betty’s is in the process of remodeling their building to accommodate the new butcher area.
Quite a few people have asked Richards how he’s able to work on advancing a 10-year plan given all of the uncertainty surrounding COVID.
“What else am I going to do,” replied Richards. “I can sit here and try to survive, or I can come up with a plan to move us past this and hopefully never have to go through this again.”
Richards says while the grant clearly has a huge benefit for his business, a rising tide raises all ships and a strong local community benefits everyone.
While the Montana Food and Agriculture Adaptability Program is closed for applications, there are still millions of dollars available in Montana COVID relief grants.
Grants are available for businesses retaining employees and business viability, emergency housing assistance, economic development, and more.
A full list of available COVID relief grants and their criteria can be found here.