Vickie Setzer was just months away from having to close one of Lenoir’s most beloved local restaurants due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was going to close 1841 Cafe in March of 2020,” Setzer said. “I was two, going on three months behind on rent, power, everything.”

Despite more than 550 five-star reviews on Google, the restaurant appeared ready to succumb to pandemic-related restrictions and economic hardships.

Carmela Tomlinson, the director of the Small Business Center at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute, was in the process of advertising a new grant when she and Setzer connected. The “Reboot, Recover, and Rebuild,” or R3, grant program was initiated through small business centers across the state to provide resources and assistance to local businesses struggling to navigate the added pressures of a global pandemic.

North Carolina’s General Assembly provided the finances to back the grants.

“If it hadn’t been for the Small Business Center, we would have never made it, Setzer said.

Through the grant, 1841 was able to add two employees and retain 10 through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Setzer received 30 hours of consultation and training on everything from managing finances, reviewing expenses, marketing, policies, employee retention and training, pricing, menu analysis and more.

While Setzer was only granted consultation and training through the R3 grant, the center also worked to ensure Setzer was signed up for every other grant and loan available through pandemic recovery plans.

“The loans got me enough money to get up on my feet, and once that happened, we got to start to-go orders,” Setzer said.

“And let me tell you what this town did. They would go to Taste of Havana and get an entree, they would go down to Fercott (Fermentables) and get their craft beer and wine, they come here and got entrees, they went to Shake-N-Dog and got for the kids, went to Piccolo’s for pasta and pizza and the (Side Street) Pour House, and everybody came together to make it work,” she said. “They weren’t going to the chains. They came here. They helped us survive.”

A little over a year since the Small Business Center stepped in to guide Setzer, she said her biggest problem now is needing more staff.

“We need servers desperately, we need a prep cook desperately, I need a fry cook, I need an expo and a hostess,” she said.

Tomlinson said the Small Business Center was so successful in using the grant funds within the county, it received some leftover money from other North Carolina small business centers to further aid in economic recovery.

“What’s really cool is we took these grants and we helped businesses, but I was able to hire other local businesses to help them, so we spread the love to all these companies. I loved that part about the grant,” Tomlinson said. “It’s important that local businesses are aware of the resources and help that is available to them during difficult times.”

The small business center is at the HUB Station, 143 Cedar Valley Road in Hudson, and can be reached at 828-726-3065.

Reporter Candice Simmons can be reached at (828)610-8721

Reporter Candice Simmons can be reached at (828)610-8721