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Long Islanders launch 'split the bill' program to help save local restaurants

The triple blend burger is made with chuck,

The triple blend burger is made with chuck, short loin and brisket meat at 317 Main Street in Farmingdale. Credit: Daniel Brennan

There are a lot of people out there trying to figure out how to help the Long Island hospitality industry survive. A private family foundation, with ties to Long Island, came up with a plan: Encourage diners to patronize their favorite restaurants by splitting the bill with them.

“Split the Bill” launched on Friday in Farmingdale, where 20 restaurants signed up to be part of this pilot program. The plan was simple: Take a picture of your receipt, upload it to the splitthebillny.com, and half your bill, up to $50, will be returned to you via PayPal or Venmo.

The plan was also wildly popular. The Sidgmore Family Foundation had initially budgeted $10,000 for Farmingdale reimbursement, but nearly all of that was claimed by midnight on Friday. A second helping of $10,000 was added to the pot on Saturday; that didn't last through the night. The foundation has earmarked $100,000 total for Split the Bill on Long Island; the administrators are now working out the details for the next phase of investment with the remaining $80,000.

The Sidgmore Family Foundation, founded by Randi Sidgmore to honor her late husband, was able to make this plan a reality, with the help of her family, Jeff Gelbwaks, Jessica Gelbwaks and Chris Grippo. 

Jeff and Randi grew up in Merrick, and Jeff raised his children, including daughter Jessica, in Bellmore. The family, he said, “was looking to deploy money to help Long Island businesses — mom and pops, places that probably weren’t going to get PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] loans.” Ideally, they wanted to target restaurants in a downtown area that was working to revitalize.

The Gelbwaks reached out to Vision Long Island director Eric Alexander and he suggested Farmingdale, whose mayor, Ralph Ekstrand, was more than happy to help. “If I had to knock on doors and ask strangers if they would be interested in this platform, I don’t know how much success I would have had,” Jeff said. “Mayor Ekstrand added legitimacy.”

As it happens, virtually all of the restaurants along Farmingdale’s Main Street participated, including 317 Main Street, Caracara Mexican Grill, Chiddy's Cheesesteaks, Croxley's Ale House, Dominican Restaurant #4, Flux Coffee, High Tide Taco Bar, Lithology Brewing Co., Vespa Italian Kitchen & Bar and Whiskey Down Diner. Off the main drag, Palmer's American Grille and T.O.A. Asian Fusion were in as well.

The foundation’s ultimate goal is to attract the attention of other family and corporate foundations. “If we could marshal resources from other philanthropists,” he said, “we could help so many more people, communities and hardworking restaurant owners and their employees.” Jessica, who developed the online platform, said "We are happy to share the whole back end to help more businesses."

You’ll find all the details, a full list of restaurants that participated and FAQs at splitthebillny.com

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