- James Buck
- Jodi Whalen and Phil Merrick of August First, Burlington
“Don’t give up the biscuit recipe!” Whalen joked as she walked by him into the restaurant, which was still filling lunch orders at 2 p.m. But Merrick was there to talk business, not baking. In a plaid shirt and baseball cap, the 64-year-old Plattsburgh native was reliving the rollercoaster ride every restaurant owner has experienced since the pandemic shut them down in mid-March.
By the first of April, the entire August First staffwas on unemployment, including Merrick and Whalen.
Merrick hoped the federal Paycheck Protection Program could be a lifeline for his business, which he and Whalen started together in 2009 — one year after they married. He’d also heard there was limited money available and the potentially forgivable loans were going to be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.
In other words, he was motivated to learn if August First would qualify. But “nobody knew anything,” he said of the many Burlington-area banks he called, including his own.
Then he found Mascoma. Right on the website was the information he sought. “PPP loans. Here’s what it is. Here’s who qualifies. Click here if you want to apply for it,” Merrick recalled the user-friendly prompts. When he called the Pine Street branch, manager Scott Anderson explained that August First would have to move to Mascoma in order to apply for the loan through the bank.
“It took two or three days to switch,” Merrick said, recalling Anderson worked way beyond bankers’ hours to make the change.
August First reopened in mid-June, and its customers returned the favor. In July sales were 62 percent of last year’s. In August, they reached 80 percent. In September, “we beat last year’s numbers,” Merrick said with a mixture of pride and relief. It was a “good-enough summer,” he proclaimed, that “I feel like we’re out of the woods.” He credits great staff, the PPP loan secured through Mascoma, state aid and the city’s willingness to increase outdoor seating for the dramatic comeback.
“It’s been awesome,” Merrick said, noting the company has enough saved to survive another potential shutdown of two or three months. “When we got the PPP money, first thing I did was write a check to our landlord. We have enough money to make sure he’s paid through the winter.”