The Paycheck Protection Program provided $2.5 million to a chain of drive-thru coffee shops in Western Washington, a prime example of how the pandemic relief bill intended for small businesses helped corporations with deeper pockets and stronger financial ties.
When the pandemic struck last spring, Bigfoot Java had over 30 locations in seven Washington counties, each of which got a $74,000 PPP loan. Bigfoot Properties and Bigfoot Investment Group, two related real estate and investment companies, issued separate loans. Based on employment recorded in Small Business Administration data and details from former employees, the organisation employs more than 500 workers, with an average of 16 employees per location.
According to state records, Al Jiwani and Jennifer Whitmore own the drive-thru chain. Jiwani’s name also appears on documents linked to Trimark Student Housing, an off-campus housing scheme near the University of Washington in Seattle, and Trimark Hospitality, which operates 14 mid-tier hotels across five states. The total amount of their PPP loans was $4.96 million.
A Bigfoot Java sign hangs in the corner ground-floor window of the unassuming office building, which also houses a Subway and a cigar store. A Bigfoot Java drive-thru coffee shop, a 76 gas station, Pit Stop Express convenience store, and White Glove Car Wash are all identified as brand names on the Trimark Petroleum Group website, which is another arm of the Jiwani corporation. PPP assets totalled $2.95 million for several of these organisations.
Trimark Property Group, another LLC, manages seven shopping plazas in Western Washington, with Safeway, Jack in the Box, Starbucks, Hobby Lobby, and Whistle Workwear as tenants.
The business did not respond to numerous phone calls, including multiple voicemails, or email requests for comment sent to more than a dozen individuals listed on its various websites. The News Tribune paid a personal visit to the office, where a woman at the front desk directed us to contact Jiwani and Whitmore via email. When we called the number listed on the Trimark Student Housing website, the man on the other end told us that our question was “inappropriate.”
The coffee shops, which were open 24 hours a day, never closed during the pandemic because they were considered “necessary” and had no place for customers to sit anyway. According to its website, Bigfoot Java is planning to open seven more sites.
Jennifer S. Fan, a small business attorney and director of the University of Washington’s Entrepreneurial Law Clinic, said, “I don’t have all the evidence in this situation, but it doesn’t seem that what the company did was improper.” “However, it raises concerns about the equity with which the funds were distributed,” she said, and “points to broader problems” with the programme.