Antun’s of Queens Village, an event space, hosted small business owners last week for a Restaurant & Hospitality Referral Program organized by the Queens Chronicle’s very own Ree Brinn and the National Small Business Chamber of Commerce.

“We are making sure these business thrive, and if we don’t work together it’s not going to happen,” said Brinn, a sales executive. “It’s not about competition anymore, it’s about uniting as one.”

The purpose of the event was to help address the challenges that small business owners face from the pandemic, according to Leonard Mancuso, president of the Queens Chapter of the National Small Business Chamber of Commerce.

“We are not able to do business as usual,” said Mancuso. “I want to see if we are in a position to help by creating these events to boost their revenue.”

The U.S. Mortgage Corporation was one of the businesses at the event.

“We are reaching out to businesses to be a part of their new-hire benefits packages,” said Tim Kennedy of U.S. Mortgage. “We are offering all employees a $1,595 closing cost discount.”

That will help business owners and their employees seeking new homes to save on buying because as a direct lender, U.S. Mortgage does not come with any of the fees found typically with banks.

“When the loan closes we will donate up to $300 to a charity of their choice,” said Kennedy about the company’sAffinity Program.

U.S. Mortgage has New York programs that offer down-payment assistance, remodeling help, FHA loans, renovation loans and conventional loans, according to Kennedy, a mortgage lender.

Clifton Stanley Diaz, chairman of the self-contained community of Rochdale Village, Inc., was also at the referral initiative.

“When you have these programs people have someone they can tap for information and resources,” said Diaz. “For instance, at Rochdale we have a newspaper that is confined to Rochdale, but what was good was that we went outside.”

By expanding their horizons via the hospitality forum, representatives of Rochdale Village were able to reach more people outside their usual purview.

Albin Castillo, the founder and master of ceremonies of Cazz NY Events, shared his journey working through the pandemic with other small business owners.

“I had to pivot,” said Castillo, a 25-year veteran entrepreneur. “To make it through, I teamed up with a printing company and we made birthday signs and graduation signs. Then we started doing balloons and decorations. That kept us afloat.”

During the summer, Castillo conducted Zoom weddings and now with the city reopening, he is back at doing 100-person weddings.

“For the Zoom weddings, I had an in-ear microphone and I worked with a team,” said Castillo. “They would tell me to look in the camera this way.”

Unfortunately, as Castillo restructured his business to adjust to pandemic conditions, he lost several of his full-time employees. However, with business picking up now, the entrepreneur has hired stay-at-home moms and veterans. Currently, he is working on hiring a fourth veteran.

“How can I restart if my full-time people left?” asked Castillo, when his business was facing a downturn. “So I said, ‘I need someone that has life experience and has a great work ethic.’ The veterans are just incredible and made a good fit.”

Moms also have great organizational experience, added Castillo, who has taken two under his wing.

Mickey King, the co-owner of Antun’s, was glad to host the event.

“It just seems like a good idea that local business owners should get together and talk in a time that it has been literally the most difficult to own a business,” said King. “The only good thing to come out of the pandemic is that I was able to share, not only our frustrations but other ideas on how to get through this and work together.”

Connecting with other entrepreneurs helped him to feel less alone at such a difficult time, and he felt a sense of community at the networking event.

With business shut down until recently for event spaces like Antun’s, it was nice to have the forum for his father, Joseph King, the former owner, to drop by.

“It was good,” said King. “I think it was great for him and us. It was great to talk to people again. That’s so much a part of our life.”

Catering and event spaces like King’s will be opening up to 500 people by June 15. Now they can only serve up to 150.

“The best part about this is the exchange of ideas from different industries,” said Mancuso. “Everyone was enthusiastic to have a new voice listen to their concerns. We are looking in anticipation for upcoming events.”

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