Michael and Tyra Harris aren’t from New Orleans, but they enjoy the city and its culture so much they’ve traveled to the “Big Easy” once or twice a year.
Also because of Tyra Harris’ taste for coffee, the Bowie couple decided to open PJ’s Coffee House of New Orleans about two months ago that’s five miles from their home. The shop is the national chain’s only outlet in Prince George’s County.
Although the couple already has loyal customers, no turnover of their 16 part-time employees and is the county’s first source of PJ’s beignets, the couple still needs financial help during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“We constantly need to buy masks, gloves. Had to purchase hand sanitizer stations,” said Michael Harris outside PJ’s Coffee on Friday, Oct. 23. “We were set to open in February, but construction stopped due to the contractor getting COVID. We had our share of highs and lows.”
The couple seeks to join other businesses to receive a portion of $250 million in economic relief from the state’s economic recovery initiative to help businesses affected by the coronavirus.
Gov. Larry Hogan said about $100 million will come from the state’s rainy day fund as an “emergency rapid response fund,” or money designated for unforeseen circumstances.
Businesses to receive the remaining $150 million remain undetermined, while others could be out of reach.
For instance, part of the program has $5 million designated for low-interest loans to small and minority-owned businesses. According to part of the COVID-19 guidelines, a business must be in good standing, owners with a credit score of at least 550 and principal place of business in the state.
Another eligibility requirement that could affect PJ’s Coffee: a business must have opened prior to Jan. 1, 2019.
“How can we show what we’ve done when we just opened?” Michael Harris said. “We have to go through the same COVID regulations as any other business.”
The state allocated $50 million for qualifying restaurants to use money for a variety of options such as technology to support carryout and delivery, purchase of personal protective equipment and heaters and tents for outdoor dining.
The Harris’ said they could use additional plexiglass, a second register and intercom system to alert customers who wait on orders outside. Of course, disinfectant and other cleaning supplies to constantly keep the business clean.
The rest of the state money to be dispersed by Dec. 31 include:
About $50 million toward small business grants of up to $10,000 as part of an earlier program that could allow eligible applicants who requested money to now receive.
About $20 million for a layoff aversion and another $20 million for the state’s 33 Main Street organizations and eight Baltimore City Main Street communities.
$3 million for nonprofit and arts organizations and $2 million for the state’s tourism program.
Back in Bowie with the smell of gourmet coffee and espresso and New Orleans jazz playing through the speakers, Tyra Harris said “everybody’s learning” through the first two months.
She said those hired came with no barista experience, but they showcased strong customer-oriented skills and character.
One of those employees, Anjola Oludayo, 17, recalled when she visited PJ’s for the job interview, “Mr. Mike [Harris] was dancing in the background. I knew this place was going to be so funny,” said the high school senior who attends Eleanor Roosevelt in Greenbelt and obtained her first job at PJ’s. “I was laughing so hard during the interview. I was part of the staff that opened, so that was a really good experience. I love it here.”