The Rubio’s at Grossmont Center Rubio’s offers only take out food early in the pandemic. Photo by Chris Stone

By Tom York

Television station NBC 7 San Diego was one of the first media outlets to cover the story of county businesses that — in the aggregate — received an eye-popping $6 billion in federal emergency Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, loans. That’s enough cash to pay every resident in this county of over 3 million about $2,000 each.

The loans were doled out during the early saga of the COVID-19 pandemic. A key feature of the program is that the loans are forgivable, basically free money if it was used to help meet payroll, mortgage payments, rent and utilities within eight to 24 weeks. Federal officials released the list of recipients and amounts received after 11 news organizations filed suit to force release of the data.

Local companies receiving the maximum loan amount of $10 million included three restaurant chains: Islands Restaurants, Cerca Trove Restaurant Group and fish taco-purveyor Rubio’s. As NBC noted, Rubio’s ended up filing for bankruptcy protection in October despite the cash infusion. The chain continues to operate while sorting out its debt to creditors in bankruptcy court.

The station also reported $4.4 billion was handed out to more than 7,700 local businesses. Loans less than $125,000 were not listed, though curiously, one business in Fallbrook received a meager $59 loan. Many nonprofits received funds, too, which was controversial at the time the loans were handed out. The national $500 billion PPP effort was part of the $2 trillion CARES Act to offset the economic crash caused by pandemic woes.

The interior of a Qdoba restaurant. Courtesy of the company

Now that we’ve touched on the topic of tacos…San Diego’s Mexican-themed fast-casual franchise operator Qdoba will open its first fully-formed hometown location in Mission Valley on Dec. 11. Due to COVID-19, a spokesperson said there would be no ribbon-cutting ceremony for the company-owned store. Qdoba, until three years ago a subsidiary of local fast-food chain Jack in the Box, also has a modest kiosk at San Diego International Airport. Jack in the Box sold the operation to private-equity firm Apollo Global Management for $305 million in 2018. What’s odd is that Jack never thought to have a unit in its hometown in the 15 years that it owned the business. According to a Qdoba spokeswoman, a franchisee has just signed a deal to open five more units in the region. The operator has more than 730 units nationwide and in Canada.

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Cox Charities has released its list of 10 area nonprofits to benefit from its Community Impact Grants program. The nonprofits include Alpha Project, Casa de Amparo, Cesar Chavez Service Club, Coastal Roots Farm, Girls Inc., Just in Time for Foster Youth, Neighborhood House Association, Promises2Kids, San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum, and the Urban League of San Diego County. Each organization received $10,000. A Cox spokeswoman said the grants focused on three key areas: COVID-19 relief, the digital divide and social justice. The grants are funded by employee donations matched by the cable communications provider and managed by an employee advisory board.

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Cabrillo Credit Union reports that it raised more than $32,000, which will be donated to Rady Children’s Hospital. The funds were raised during its annual Miracle Month of May campaign, which, despite is title, was shifted to October due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cabrillo’s members and suppliers contributed to the fund-raising as well as employees, who held a virtual silent auction. They donated items for the auction and then organized safe pick-ups and drop-offs for winning bidders. Cabrillo received a $10,000 grant from a credit union financial services network to help fund the donation.

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Checking in on the legal front…The partners at the Procopio law firm have selected Managing Partner John D. Alessio to serve a second three-year term for 2021. According to a news release, Alessio was asked to lead the firm after successfully negotiating this year’s many challenges caused by the coronavirus. Despite those challenges, Procopio even opened an office in Orange County. Alessio still works with clients but also finds time for community service, including participation in PEERS San Diego and the Entrepreneurs’ Organization San Diego.

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A dubious distinction…San Diego ranks as the 8th most expensive U.S. city to rent an apartment, according to a recently released report by website Zumper. The website found that the price of one-bedroom units remained flat at $1,790 last month, while two-bedroom units fell 1.3% to $2,340. How do we compare nationally? Overall, Zumper reports the national 1-bedroom median rent remained flat last month at $1,224, while the 2-bedroom median rent increased 0.3% to $1,487. You can drill down on the report here. The report covers 100 cities nationwide, with data aggregated from over 1 million active listings, and includes a National Rent Index for one and two-bedroom units.

Tom York is a Carlsbad-based independent journalist who specializes in writing about business and the economy. If you have news tips you’d like to share, send them to