Portnoy launched the fundraising effort with the nonprofit 30 Day Fund for small businesses impacted by COVID-19 called "The Barstool Fund" on Dec. 17 and contributed $500,000 of his own money toward the effort.
"It was certainly humbling and a little embarrassing," Kerry Counard, owner of Abbey Bar in Wisconsin -- which Portnoy chose as one of the initial six restaurants to receive funds -- told Fox Business. He expressed empathy for the "thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of small businesses" still struggling amid lockdowns.
Counard was driving when he heard the news and had to pull over because it was so overwhelming. Abbey Bar, which has been operating for 45 years, has been turning cash donations from grateful customers into gift cards for frontline workers, such as nurses and teachers, which is part of the reason Counard thinks Barstool chose his restaurant to participate in The Barstool Fund.
"When we opened as take out only, being a neighborhood grill, we make money when people come in and sit down and have a drink and stick around," Counard said. "...We got most of our business from college, [which] went almost completely virtual this fall. We lost almost all that business."
The restaurant owner said it was "humbling" to see merchandise featuring his restaurant's logo on the website, and people from all over the country have been purchasing hats and t-shirts. The funds will help pay his employees and keep his restaurant afloat, he said.
"It's like an extra Christmas gift," Counard said. "It's certainly going to help us bridge through the pandemic."
Portnoy introduced the fund in a Dec. 17 tweet, saying businesses could submit stories to email@example.com to be considered for the fund.
Portnoy has been sharing video submissions from restaurant owners asking to be part of the fundraising effort on social media.
He has also been sharing videos of restaurant owners' reactions to news that they have been chosen to take part in The Barstool Fund, with several restaurant owners appearing to be on the verge of tears after hearing from Portnoy directly.
The Barstool founder has previously visited two of the restaurants chosen for the fund – Borelli's and Mama Mia 44 SW, both in New York City – as part of his "Barstool Pizza Review Series."
Connie R. Mama, owner of Mama Mia 44 SW, told Portnoy during a Tuesday phone call posted to Twitter that she was "so moved" by the effort and appeared to get choked up.
"My mom just passed in January, and I told her before she died, 'Mom, don't worry. I'm going to take care of the business,'" Mama said.
She added that her business has experienced a number of challenges recently. Just last week, Mama said a burglar broke into Mama Mia's and stole the 50-year-old restaurant's liquor. She also said she had to spend $12,000 on outdoor dining equipment to accommodate customers during winter in New York City, which recently closed indoor dining.
Portnoy told the restaurant owner in the video that people "have to hear" stories like hers "because that's what's creating more people that donate" so that Barstool can "help more people and save more small businesses" struggling amid the pandemic.
In another Dec. 17 video posted to Twitter, Borelli's co-owner Frank Borelli thanks Portnoy for starting The Barstool Fund and also got teary upon the news that his business would be receiving donations from the fund.
"You know what it means to us," Borelli says. "This started in April. We had our doors close. We made it through December. We built an outdoor patio. People were coming in. We were breaking even during the summer. I cut my staff. They're all being paid."
He continued: "I said we'll make it through Christmas. January through March, I was planning on closing. I didn't say anything to my staff. This is going to help so much -- you don't know. Thank you from the bottom of my heart."
Barstool is continuing to accept applications from small businesses to take part in The Barstool Fund.