New grants for community restaurants

two women pose for photo
Valcie McIntosh (right) owner of Papa’s Park Cafe in Brixton – seen here with Brixton Business Improvement District’s Jessica Dyer – was a grant recipient last year

A grant programme that last year saw 10 small independent Brixton food businesses receive grants of £5,000 each is open again for applications this year at critical time for sector.

Independent restaurant owners across London can apply for a share of almost £70,000 to help grow their businesses through an American Express-supported programme.

It is run by the International Downtown Association (IDA) Foundation – a US based non-profit organisation dedicated to improving city centres – in partnership with the Association of Town & City Management (ATCM) a non-profit body for local high street business organisations, representing them to various levels of government, and a forum of support, best practice and networking.

Now in its second year, the global Backing International Small Restaurants programme runs in London, Mexico City, Sydney, Tokyo, and Toronto and highlights the important role independent restaurants play in their communities and provides them with support.

In London, the IDA is working with the ATCM to promote the initiative and select grant recipients from the capital’s diverse dining scene.

This year, six eligible restaurants of community significance will receive £11,500 each to help them make critical improvements that boost their business, such as enhancing digital capabilities, revitalising their dining spaces and kitchens, or making other physical improvements.

Organisers said the programme comes at a time when hospitality operators face a challenging market and rising costs across all areas of their business.

However, research by American Express shows that diners continue to support small restaurants. 

A study of 2,000 consumers found that almost three-quarters (73%) believe it is important to spend at small restaurants as a way of supporting local high streets; with the same proportion (73%) saying these venues are vital to maintaining a vibrant and diverse local community.

Following a positive experience, eight in 10 (79%) say they would recommend a small restaurant to friends and family and two-thirds (67%) would visit more often.

London restaurant owners can find out more about the programme and apply for a grant at The deadline for applications is 7 July 2023.

David Downey of IDA, said: “We recognise the vital role that small, independent restaurants play in our communities.

“This programme is a demonstration of our commitment to supporting these businesses and helping them thrive and succeed in the wake of ongoing economic challenges worldwide.”

Ojay McDonald, ATCM chief executive, said: “London is home to one of the world’s best hospitality scenes.

“This scheme from American Express provides a golden opportunity for innovation from those business owners with great ideas on how to evolve but who lack the capital to be able to invest.

“This programme can help turn potential that exists with our small food businesses and convert that into reality as part of a global movement for innovation. We are delighted to support this.”

Backing International Small Restaurants is part of American Express’ “Backing Small” grant initiative, which supports small business owners and entrepreneurs across the world, and includes grant programmes, mentoring support, and technical assistance.

It complements American Express’ Shop Small campaign, a movement to spotlight and support small, independent businesses, along with its support of Small Business Saturday, of which American Express remains founder and the Principal Supporter in the UK. 

Owners of restaurants and other hospitality venues in London with a foodservice offer can apply online until 7 July 2023.

Applicants will need to explain how they will use the grant to drive their business forward. Recipients will be announced and awarded the funding later this summer. 

Valcie McIntosh, owner of Papas Café in Brixton’s Papa’s Park, was a recipient of a grant last year.

“The grant gave us the opportunity to update and purchase much-needed items for the café,” she said.

“Our customers have paid us lovely compliments on the new and improved interior and the equipment has brightened up the outside space, making a huge difference to the local community.”