When the COVID-19 crisis hit Texas, no one could have predicted its impact on every facet of our lives. How we worked, how we shopped, and even how we met (Zoom is probably a permanent fixture in everyone’s vocabulary by now) were all vastly changed. How we did business was changed too, which resulted in a scary situation for businesses around the country. The situation was no different in the Town of Little Elm, but one thing was different: our response.  

The Little Elm Economic Development Corporation moved to help local businesses through the development of a Voucher Program to support local restaurants.   

“We wanted to do something to support our local restaurants and give patrons a reason to dine out — on us,” said Jennette Espinosa, Executive Director of the Little Elm EDC.  

The program gave residents of the Town a $25 voucher to redeem at local restaurants within a two-month time frame.  Users had to spend a minimum of 25 dollars to qualify the restaurant for reimbursement. The vouchers were mailed out and could be used at any restaurant in the Town’s incorporated limits. 

Residents could redeem the voucher at the restaurant of their choice. In turn, the EDC would give the restaurants $25 back for every voucher that was redeemed.  

The voucher program proved to be more successful than we had initially anticipated. It had a return rate of about 30 percent, which is higher than the average return rate on direct mail participation.  

The voucher program was able to help approximately 30 of our local businesses. To date, the EDC has reimbursed just under $100K, which is roughly 30 percent of the budgeted amount set aside for this program.  

“We are extremely proud of the success of this program,” Espinosa said.  

Espinosa isn’t the only one who is thrilled with the program’s success. Mike Peters, the owner of Wing Daddy’s Sauce House, commended the program and saw significant benefits to participating. Peters said:  

“I felt it was a great way for the Town to show support and give back to both its stakeholders and the business owners. We were able to pay half of our monthly rent, gained so many new customers from them using the voucher to try something new, and we saw many people who simply wanted to do their part to help by spending more than just the allotted $25. I know that times were tough for everyone, but to see the people come out and want to do more was really nice. This week is our fifth anniversary, and we are still so proud to be a part of Little Elm.” 

Owner of Krab Kingz, Tawana Burton, echoed Peter’s praise. Burton said:  

“We are so appreciative of the support we received from the Town and all of our residents. We are so grateful to be a part of the Little Elm community, and believe that coming here was the best decision we made. We are new to the Town, still growing and learning, and we appreciate every order we were able to fulfill with the voucher program. No other community, where we have restaurants, reached out and created a program to support the local businesses. The program for us was a huge success.” 

Valerie Epstein, owner of Savory Kitchen agreed that the program with successful. Epstein said: 

“When the quarantine hit in mid-March, and we had to close the restaurant for dine-in, there were many uncertainties. As a new restaurant, just opened eight months, we were just starting to build our customer base. We didn’t know what closing would mean, if people would still order curbside. Fortunately, we operate in an awesome community with strong support from the Town of Little Elm. When the EDC announced the voucher program, we were excited. This was just the boost we needed after a couple of slow weeks. The voucher program brought in many new customers who are now regular customers. It also brought a sense of community and provided a nice treat for the residents while supporting local restaurants. We were happy to be part of it.” 

Due to the successful response of the program and a return to reduced occupancy limits in response to the spread of COVID-19, the Little Elm EDC is planning to do another round of voucher mailings to support local restaurants further.  

This program was accomplished by the Town of Little Elm allocating a portion of the funds received from the CARES Act and with the support of Denton County.