HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) – Connecticut small business food services were among the hardest hit during the pandemic. Over the last 20 months, the industry has lost $250 billion nationwide.

On Wednesday, industry leaders kicked off ‘Dine Local.’

Parkville Market in Hartford is a global hub for the world’s spices. The 20,000 square foot open-air market has 20 different restaurants.

“I ordered from the vegan restaurant. I ordered mac and cheese and chicken tenders,” said Trinity Stewart of Bloomfield.

The United States’ Small Business Administration (SBA) says nearly 99,000 people are employed in the small business foodservice industry. Local Connecticut restaurants generate a payroll of more than $2 billion annually.

“The table was set very difficult for our restaurants and food industry during COVID-19 they had to pivot and work very hard to survive,” said Catherine Marx, district director of the SBA.

During the pandemic, consumer confidence was down a lot. Now, they’re dining in. Pandemic losses to this industry were massive. There were 1,600 struggling Connecticut restaurants that received $301 million from a federal Restaurant Revitalization Program, but another 2,000 were left out. It’s estimated $489 million in relief funding is still needed.

The creator of Parkville Market got choked up while thanking the SBA for its help. His dream to create a space for start-ups came to life.

“I still believe in the American dream, and I think entrepreneurship is a way to be independent,” said Carlos Mouta, the owner of Parkville market.

For locals, it’s also a chance to support their culture.

In addition to delicious foods and performances, it’s a gathering space chock full of community.