Just over a year ago, Henry Manice and Naveen Pawar of Mighty Squirrel brewery were feeling giddy. Having recently opened their massive taproom in Waltham, they were putting the finishing touches on the space — in particular, plans for a function room — when the pandemic stopped them in their tracks.

Today, they’ve hit a new stride. Working with their landlord, they created a huge turf-covered patio over their parking lot with more than 300 outdoor seats. QR codes let people order beers from their tables. The lines get so long on weekends that they hand out frisbees to customers to entertain themselves on a nearby lawn.

The duo joined Representative Katherine Clark at their brewery on Thursday to acknowledge Small Business Week, where they credited the Small Business Administration’s aid programs with helping them keep their business afloat.

“We were in a pretty serious financial jam in order to continue making good with our employees and our landlord,” Manice said, explaining that he was able to use Paycheck Protection Program funds to pay his workers while he invested in HVAC equipment and the patio build-out. “Having the government offer that funding and the belief that we could power through things . . . it’s just absolutely critical.”
Clark hosted a roundtable event with Manice, Pawar, and other local business owners, who shared stories of the past year navigating both the pandemic and the various funding programs the government offered as a life raft. While the SBA programs were frustrating at the start — a good number of small businesses fell through the cracks at first — many attendees said they were grateful.