Middletown revamping micro-grant program for small businesses, including new restaurant

Proposed rendition for signage at Brent's Smoking Butts & Grill, 1206 Central Ave., in downtown Middletown. The signage has not been installed as the request is pending before the Middletown Historic Commission. Brent and Kelly Dalton are investing more than $60,000 into a brick and mortar location in addition to their food truck operation. The Dalton's have been awarded a Small Business Economic Development Assistance micro-grant for $6,000 toward signage and kitchen equipment. CONTRIBUTED/BRENT DALTON
Proposed rendition for signage at Brent's Smoking Butts & Grill, 1206 Central Ave., in downtown Middletown. The signage has not been installed as the request is pending before the Middletown Historic Commission. Brent and Kelly Dalton are investing more than $60,000 into a brick and mortar location in addition to their food truck operation. The Dalton's have been awarded a Small Business Economic Development Assistance micro-grant for $6,000 toward signage and kitchen equipment. CONTRIBUTED/BRENT DALTON

In an effort to help entrepreneurs, small business owners and start-ups, Middletown is in the process of updating its Small Business Entrepreneurial Assistance Grant program.

Chris Xeil Lyons, the city’s economic development director, has been working to reach out to small business owners to help them strengthen their business in the city.

“The program has been around for a number of years,” she said. “We’re trying to make it be more user-friendly.”

Lyons said she ran a similar program when she worked in Sharonville as its economic development director. She is hoping to create a fund in the city’s 2021 budget of about $75,000 that could award micro-grants from $1,000 to $10,000 for small business start-ups throughout Middletown.

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“We use these micro-grants for companies and businesses that don’t qualify for job creation or other incentive programs,” she said. “We want to streamline the process by making it more business friendly, less paperwork and being more nimble.”

Council recently approved two such micro-grants to BAAB’s Kayaking and to Brent’s Smokin’ Butts & Grill LLC.

Brent and Kelly Dalton have operated the food truck business since 2016. They are now at the next step of developing a restaurant at 1206 Central Ave. in downtown Middletown with plans to serve lunch and dinner, city officials said.

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“We are not open yet,” Brent Dalton said. “We’re shooting for mid-October to open. COVID pushed us back and we lost every big event this year because of that.”

Dalton said they plan to invest $60,000 into the facility, equipment, and payroll. They have been able to operate debt free up to this point, according to city officials.

“We’ve invested between $30,000 and $40,000 in kitchen equipment,” he said. “The city has been great to work with, but you still need to jump through all of the hoops.”

He said with the three-year lease on the building space, kitchen equipment and other start-up costs, the total investment will be close to $100,000.

Lyons said the city offered the Daltons a three-year, $6,000 forgivable loan to be used for startup costs. The city will waive $2,000 per year for each year they are in operation.

“Without a doubt, this is a good program,” Brent Dalton said. “Every little bit helps and anytime you get something, it’s a blessing and the city is putting its faith in you.”

A requirement of this assistance is meeting with the Butler County Small Business Development Center and developing a business plan.

Middletown City Council will consider final approval on Sept. 15 for another micro-grant for Andrea Booth, who has opened a new retail store at 1301 Central Ave. called Annie Up Boutique. The store specializes in biker apparel and parts.

Booth requested a $2,850 small business entrepreneurial assistance for a percentage of her signage costs. Pending approval by the Historic Commission Sept. 17, she hopes to have an illuminated sign. If no approval is granted, no funding will be released, Lyons said.