A database released last week by the U.S. Small Business Administration shows that 521 businesses and nonprofits in Brookfield, North Riverside and Riverside applied for and received up to $112,163,000 from the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) created to help small businesses and nonprofits navigate the financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The vast majority of those local organizations receiving the money – some 487 of them — were not identified in the database, since they received less than $150,000 from the program.

But 34 firms and nonprofits who list addresses in Brookfield, Riverside and North Riverside received loan amounts anywhere between $150,000 and the maximum $10 million amount, including high profile attractions like Brookfield Zoo.

The list also includes businesses and nonprofits ranging from a food processing plant, car dealerships, local grocery stores and churches to firms that fly far under the radar. The Riverside-Brookfield Landmark reported in May that its parent company, the nonprofit Growing Community Media, had received a $242,500 PPP loan.

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread through large urban areas in the United States, including Cook County in Illinois, during the latter part of March, the federal government rolled out the Paycheck Protection Program as part of its more comprehensive CARES Act to help small businesses and nonprofits navigate the subsequent financial fallout.

At least 60 percent of the loans, which were doled in increments up to $10 million in some cases, was to be used to pay salaries and benefits of employees, while the other 40 percent could be spent on other things, like mortgage payments, rent and utilities.

And much, if not all, of the money loaned to businesses is forgivable, as long as it’s spent according to the guidelines set by the U.S. Small Business Administration.


Zoo lands loan between $5-10 million

The local organization receiving the most PPP funds, also the area’s largest employer, is Brookfield Zoo, which was loaned between $5 million and $10 million; zoo officials declined to disclose the exact amount.

“The Chicago Zoological Society followed the guidelines as specified by the PPP loan documents on how the money can be used, including to support payroll and benefits costs for staff,” said Sondra Katzen, the society’s director of public relations, in response to an inquiry from the Landmark. “Additionally, we have launched a capital campaign to help further offset the significant loss of revenue during our temporary closure.”

Brookfield Zoo reopened its doors on July 1 after a shutdown of more than three months due to COVID-19. In early April the zoo furloughed and laid off non-essential staff, amounting to about one third of its workforce. It followed in June by announcing that the zoo was eliminating the equivalent of 56 full-time positions.

According to the SBA database, the zoo indicated it would be retaining 468 jobs when it applied for the loan, which was approved on April 8, three days after the zoo announced the first wave of furloughs/layoffs.

Another large PPP loan recipient was the Brookfield food manufacturing company Sweetener Supply Corporation at 9501 Southview Ave., which was awarded between $2 million and $5 million.

The company, which retained 191 employees according to the database, manufactures food ingredients including corn sweeteners, honey, white and brown sugar, molasses and others. Headquartered in Brookfield, the company has four other locations, including ones in Berwyn and LaGrange and in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, and Reno, Nevada. It’s building a new location in Wolcott, Indiana, that’s scheduled to open in 2022.

The company’s CEO, Joe Gardella, did not respond to a phone message left by the Landmark.


Flying under the radar

The two Riverside-based businesses getting the largest PPP loans, of between $1 million and $2 million, are probably ones you’ve never heard of. One is called GKA Group LLC, and it lists its address as the Riverside Post Office at 45 E. Burlington St.

According to the Illinois Secretary of State, the company’s manager is Guy Hollis, whose LinkedIn page describes Hollis as an “area franchisee for Culver’s Restaurants since 2004 with eight locations in the Chicagoland area.”

The other Riverside company receiving a loan of more than $1 million was Miramar International Group, which has its executive offices at 345 E. Burlington St.

The firm’s website casts Miramar as a facilities management company, although in a 2019 SEC filing by Commonwealth Edison, where Miramar’s CEO is mentioned, the company is referred to as an “international public relations firm.”

Miramar’s CEO, Juan Ochoa, a man with connections to political power brokers in Chicago, said the 10-year old firm specializes in facilities management, although it does have a background in PR, and has recently provided PR services to a nonprofit in Mexico promoting tourism and trade.

“Our bread and butter are facilities,” Ochoa said in an email. “We not only manage buildings, we also self-perform over 80 percent of the work.”

The firm’s contracts are about equally split between private and government entities, said Ochoa, and about 70 percent of the company’s employees are minority, most of them Black. The firm, which employs 135 people, does business in seven states, Ochoa said.

The total amount of Miramar’s loan was a little less than $1.2 million, Ochoa said, and will be used entirely on payroll costs.

“The loan has allowed us to keep all 135 of our employees working,” Ochoa said, adding that a few of the company’s employees have tested positive for COVID-19. 

In 2019, Ochoa was elected to the ComEd board of directors. From 2007-10, he was CEO of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, also known as McPier, which operates Navy Pier and the McCormick Place convention complex in Chicago. 

In 2017, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed Ochoa to McPier’s board of directors, and he served as a special advisor to the mayor. 

From 1997-2007, Ochoa was CEO of the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. In an email, Ochoa said he also sits on the boards of several nonprofits, including Special Olympics Illinois.

Miramar has won some very lucrative federal government contracts. On Sept. 30, 2019, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that Miramar International Group of Riverside had been awarded a $25 million contract to provide “facility support and maintenance services at various reserve centers located in California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah.”

Despite such deals, Ochoa said the pandemic has not affected just finding new sources of revenue, but getting paid for work already completed.

“One of the least written about problems for small businesses during the pandemic is cash flow,” he said. “As example, our company is owed a sum much greater than our loan. Given the dire straits, we don’t know if we will ever get paid. The economy has impacted every corner of our country. But for this program, our story of staying afloat would be different.”


Nursing homes get ‘vital’ help

Receiving a $1.2 million loan was Cantata Adult Life Services, one of two local nursing/assisted living centers applying for and receiving PPP money.

Kevin Heraty, chief development officer for Cantata, said the money was being used entirely for payroll.

“We have not laid off or furloughed a single person since COVID started, and, in fact, we used part of the PPP monies to pay our hourly employees and direct care staff a higher hourly wage amount for a period from late March to early June,” Heraty said in an email.

If Cantata has any COVID-19 positive residents in future, PPP money will pay direct care staff who work with those patients a higher hourly wage, and will do the same for any employee providing offsite care to COVID-positive patients, Heraty said.

Caledonia Senior Living and Memory Care in North Riverside received a loan of between $350,000 and $1 million, money the nonprofit’s president, Gus Noble, called “vital” to weathering the initial wave of the pandemic, which forced them to stop admitting new residents.

“We’re a small community, and if we can’t admit more new residents it does increase the financial pressure,” Noble said.

Proceeds from the loan, Noble said, have gone to pay bonuses to staff and to buy groceries for them weekly in order to limit their need to go to the store themselves. Caledonia also purchased a new screening system that takes temperatures automatically and allows tracking and tracing of everyone who enters the building.

“We wanted to recognize that our staff was the most important part of the protection that we offer to our residents,” Noble said.


Car dealers, construction firms, churches and more

Also obtaining PPP loans of between $350,000 and $1 million in North Riverside were its two cars dealerships, Zeigler Ford and Castle Buick, as well as Amigo Insurance Agency and Pinnacle Decorating Company.

St. Mary Church in Riverside was also awarded a PPP loan between $350,000 and $1 million. The parish’s pastor, the Rev. Thomas May, referred questions to the Archdiocese of Chicago, which did not respond to the Landmark’s inquiries.

Seven Brookfield businesses and nonprofits received loans of between $350,000 and $ 1 million, including Community Support Services, which provides support and services for those with intellectual/developmental disabilities; Advanced Critical Transport, an ambulance service headquartered on Ogden Avenue; and Higgins and White Inc., a food ingredient marketing firm with offices at 8400 Brookfield Ave.

The others were Connor’s Transportation Inc., Unique Plumbing, Ideal Heating Company and House of Doors.

Both of the local independent grocery stores – Riverside Foods in Riverside and Tischler Finer Foods in Brookfield – received PPP loans of between $150,000 and $350,000.

In the early weeks of the pandemic, management and employees at both stores worked overtime to make sure people could get food and household products during a spree of panic buying as the governor issued his stay-at-home order.

They took on additional employees, spent money to make sure the stores were disinfected regularly and made other changes. At Riverside Foods, they expanded home delivery and instituted a curbside pickup service.

The loan, said Riverside Foods co-owner Peter Boutsikakis, went to paying employees, including anyone who had to miss an extended period of time due to illness. The store added seven or eight employees to accommodate the new services, and “we had an astronomical amount of spending with cleaning and the free masks we give out.”

The store also paid employees hazard pay in addition to their regular pay.

“One hundred percent went toward employee use,” Boutsikakis said of the loan proceeds.


Database shows who obtained PPP loans locally

The following businesses and nonprofit organizations applied for and received Paycheck Protection Program loans from the federal government as part of the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. All of the information below was contained in an SBA database released of those receiving loans in excess of $150,000.

In addition, there were 487 other companies in Brookfield, North Riverside and Riverside receiving PPP loan in amounts less than $150,000. Those companies were not identified by the SBA.



Loan amount / Organization / Jobs retained

$5-10 million / Chicago Zoological Society, 3300 Golf Road. / 468

$2-5 million / Sweetener Supply Corporation, 9501 Southview Ave. / 191

$1-2 million / British Home for Retired Men and Women, 8700 31st St. / 138

$350,000-1 million / Advanced Critical Transport LLC, 8940 Ogden Ave. / 51

$350,000-1 million /  Community Support Services, 9021 Ogden Ave. / NA

$350,000-1 million / Connor’s Transportation, Inc., 9100 W. Plainfield Rd. / 61

$350,000-1 million / Higgins & White Inc., 8400 Brookfield Ave. / 19

$350,000-1 million / House Of Doors Inc., 9038 Ogden Ave. / 17

$350,000-1 million / Ideal Heating Company, 9515 Southview Ave., / 11

$350,000-1 million / Unique Plumbing Co, 9408 47th St., Suite 123

$150,000-350,000 / Alphabet Learning Center Inc., 9220 Broadway Ave. / 35

$150,000-350,000 / Brookfield Collision Shop Inc., 9110 Ogden Ave. / NA

$150,000-350,000 / Ellis Dynasty Inc., 8800 47th St. / 20

$150,000-350,000 / Luigi’s Paisans Pizza II Inc., 3720 Grand Blvd. / 39

$150,000-350,000 / Nicks Metal Fabricating and Sons Inc., 9132 47th St. / 18

$150,000-350,000 / Robert G. Sansone Inc., 9118 47th St. / 7

$150,000-350,000 / Tischler Finer Foods, 9118 Broadway / 66

$150,000-350,000 / United Enterprise LLC, 9220 Ogden Ave. / 30

$150,000-350,000 / ZMX Transportation Services Inc., 9140 Plainfield Rd. / 28



$1-2 million / GKA Group LLC, 45 E. Burlington St., #293 / 366

$1-2 million / Miramar International Group Inc., 345 E. Burlington St. / 135

$350,000-1 million / St. Mary Church, 126 Herrick Rd. / NA

$150,000-350,000 / Orthopaedic Associates of Riverside LLC, 353 E. Burlington St. / 25

$150,000-350,000 / V&G Super Foods Inc., 48 E. Burlington St. / 30


North Riverside

$350,000-1 million / Amigo Insurance Agency Inc., 7907 Cermak Rd. / NA

$350,000-1 million / Castle Buick-GMC Inc., 7400 Cermak Rd. / NA

$350,000-1 million / Pinnacle Decorating Inc., 8404 26th St. / 61

$350,000-1 million / The Illinois St. Andrew Society, 2800 Desplaines Ave. / 109

$350,000-1 million / Zeigler North Riverside LLC, 2100 Harlem Ave. / 58

$150,000-350,000 / Beacon Sales Service Installation Inc., 2413 7th Ave. / 12

$150,000-350,000 / Greenwood Management Group, 9155 Cermak Rd. / 23

$150,000-350,000 / JLO Services Inc., 7301 25th St. / 0

$150,000-350,000 / Smart Moves Pediatrics PC, 7929 Cermak Rd, Unit C / 11

$150,000-350,000 / Solutions for Care, 7222 Cermak Rd., Suite 200 / 500 *


* While the SBA database states Solutions for Care retained 500 jobs with its PPP loan, the nonprofit’s executive director, Sarah Saenz, said the organization has 24 employees.

2 replies on “Millions in federal PPP loans went to local businesses”