DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The restaurant industry has been among the hardest hit by COVID-19, but the $900 billion second stimulus package Congress agreed to has restaurant owners ending a tough year with hope.

Just days before Christmas, lunch at Bugatti Ristorante in Dallas would normally be packed. Not this year.

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“As you can, the whole place is empty right now,” said owner Zee Aziz.

Aziz said, year-to-date, his business is down more than 70%.

“It’s been the most struggle I’ve ever seen in my business career,” he said.

But Christmas came a little early to the restaurant industry with the second round of the Paycheck Protection Program. It’s something the Texas Restaurant Association had campaigned for since May.

“We know that there’s no silver bullet to save this industry, but getting this relief as a time when the winter is on us and so many restaurants are at the very end of their runway, it definitely felt like a very big sigh of relief,” said Texas Restaurant Association President and CEO Emily Williams Knight.

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The Texas Restaurant Association said the industry was in dire need of this second round of stimulus. In Texas, more than 10,000 restaurants have already closed their doors for good.

The new relief bill named restaurants as the only sector allowed to draw from PPP at 3.5 times monthly payroll, compared to 2.5 times for others.

“Getting three and a half months unlike any industry was a nod, and the ability to get forgivable expenses for PPE, all the reconfiguring of your restaurants to do carry-out and take-out, your technology investments, that’s new in this round,” said Knight.

Aziz said it literally could be a lifeline – for him and thousands like him.

“It’s going to make a huge difference moving forward to 2021 so we can keep it going. Keep the door open. Keep the employees working and keep moving forward to hopefully a great year ahead of us.”

Knight said owners should be able to apply for and receive their loans at the beginning of the year.

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