Amex offers restaurants a lifeline via National Trust for Historic Preservation

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Colleen Taylor has only met three of her American Express colleagues in person since joining the company as president of merchant services in the midst of the pandemic. But through virtual channels she’s driving a campaign to rescue historic hangouts.

American Express is working with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to deliver $1 million in grants to help some of the most treasured and vulnerable restaurants in the U.S. get through the pandemic, Amex announced Tuesday.

“Restaurants are the fabric of every community and we want to find those small, independent operations with historic value that have experienced hardships and help them survive and thrive,” Taylor said in an interview.

With help from the public, Amex and the National Trust this spring will award grants of $40,000 each to 25 small, historic restaurants to use for operational improvements. Dell and AT&T are pitching in with a total of $250,000 in additional technical and consulting help.

“Restaurants with long histories mean a lot to people — memories, comfort food and connection — and we want to give them the help they need to stay around,” said Colleen Taylor, president of merchant services at American Express.

To maximize community impact, the program emphasizes independent restaurants owned by People of Color, women and other underrepresented groups, Taylor said. Taylor has been recognized as one of PaymentsSource's Most Influential Women in Payments in past leadership roles at Mastercard and Capital One.

The idea came about because among the thousands of merchants Taylor and her team support, restaurants have stood out in their race to introduce digital technology for online ordering, curbside pickup and touchless payment technology.

“A lot of restaurants have struggled to keep up,” she said.

A soul food restaurant in Atlanta that sustained Taylor and her friends in college, and a favorite eatery in Brooklyn when she first moved to New York, are still open — but many other small restaurants have closed during the pandemic.

“Restaurants with long histories mean a lot to people — memories, comfort food and connection — and we want to give them the help they need to stay around,” Taylor said.

For the “Backing Historic Small Restaurants” program, the public is invited to make suggestions through a link to the National Trust. Grantees will be selected by the National Trust, with input from Amex and an advisory committee of chefs including Deborah VanTrece, Edouardo Jordan and Kwame Onwuachi, Amex said.

Restaurants can use the grant money to improve, upgrade and preserve their physical and online businesses, including expanding outdoor dining and adding takeout and online ordering systems, or simply to offset operating costs, according to the program’s guidelines.

The National Trust has never specifically spotlighted restaurants in its campaigns to save historic sites.

Since 1988, the Washington, D.C.-based organization has published its annual list of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places,” which included everything from motels to rivers. Support from the public and corporations has resulted in all but a handful of 300 sites surviving over the years. The 2021 list of 11 new sites will be announced in June.

Amex for years has backed the National Trust's efforts. Its newest promotion for restaurants builds on the card network’s Shop Small effort to promote small businesses, which this year included stepped-up efforts to promote restaurants.

Amex and its Resy restaurant-software platform launched the “Order In, Help Out” campaign this month, powered by the #TakeoutTuesday social media messaging campaign; Amex has also sponsored outdoor dining patios in partnership with Major Food Group.

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