For some of the nation’s largest restaurant chains, today was embarrassing at best. The U.S. Treasury released a redacted spreadsheet naming the largest beneficiaries of its $659 billion Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Congress funded PPP during the coronavirus pandemic to help struggling business owners keep workers on payroll. If borrowers expend at least 60% of their PPP loan on payroll within 24 weeks and satisfy other minor conditions, the Treasury will waive the entire principal and convert the loan into a cash grant that the owner keeps for free.
Although helpful, the Treasury has redacted borrowers below $150,000 in loan value, as well as obfuscated the exact amount of each loan. Investigative publications have filed a dozen Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests this week, seeking even more detailed disclosure of the $512 billion in approved PPP loans to date.
According to the release, P.F. Chang’s received a PPP loan in excess of $5 million, which might sound innocuous enough for a popular Asian food chain operating 214 U.S. locations and franchising another 93 restaurants abroad. However, most patrons might be less aware that P. F. Chang’s is owned by a $10 billion hedge fund, Paulson & Company. Paulson & Company is the hedge fund of Forbes-listed billionaire John Paulson whose personal net worth exceeds $4 billion.
Another example of billionaires benefiting from free money can be seen on line 273,674 of the spreadsheet, which discloses an April 6th loan exceeding $5 million from Needham Bank to PR Restaurants LLC, a franchisee of Panera Bread. In 2017, JAB Holdings acquired Panera Bread for $7.2 billion. Who owns JAB Holdings? Five billionaires from Germany — Wolfgang, Matthias, Stefan, Renate and Andrea Reimann — with a combined personal net worth of “at least $20 billion,” according to Forbes.
The spreadsheet also shows Legal Sea Foods receiving a PPP loan in mid-April in excess of $5 million. Formed by senior members of HSBC Bank, Graycliff Partners is worth over $1 billion and has been an investor in Legal Sea Foods since November 2017.
Perhaps the most interesting example of a billionaire benefiting from free PPP funds is President Donald Trump’s real estate tenants. Trump is personally worth over $2 billion. Trump owns the office building 40 Wall Street, located in lower Manhattan. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) approved PPP loans for 22 companies at that address. Those tenants received at least $16.6 million in forgivable PPP loans. Moreover, Sushi Nakazawa, a restaurant in the Trump D.C. hotel, received more than $150,000 in free money.
Although the billionaires listed above might not have been personally responsible for applying for these PPP funds, their assets directly benefit from their disbursement. According to an earlier investigation by the Washington Post, “blanket approvals” allowed “Congress, officials and their families to receive Paycheck Protection Program funds without a required conflict of interest review.”