Contributing author: Sabrina Endicott
On November 17th, Food Tank is co-hosting a panel with the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center on COVID-19’s impact on the restaurant and culinary industry and what is being done to help save restaurants. Panelists will include Camilla Marcus, Founder of Independent Restaurant Coalition and Co-founder of the Relief Opportunities for All Restaurants, Naama Tamir, Co-owner of Lighthouse and Lighthouse Outpost, JJ Johnson, Owner of FIELDTRIP, Tom Colicchio, Founder of Crafted Hospitality, Andrew Rigie, Executive Director of NYC Hospitality Alliance, and Salil Metah, Chef and Owner of Laut Singapura Restaurant.
Register here to learn more about how the industry has been impacted, and how chefs, restaurant operators, and entrepreneurs are looking for alternative ways to run their businesses.
When the COVID-19 outbreak began in the United States, 5.9 million restaurant jobs were lost between February and April, according to the Independent Restaurant Coalition. And a new survey by the National Restaurant Association finds that 100,000 restaurants have closed permanently or long-term.
“Moving forward, I think restaurants have to be very critical about how we used to run our businesses,” Erik Bruner-Yang, chef and restaurateur, tells Food Tank. “Now is the time for everyone to revisit how to do things differently.”
Organizations around the country are discovering innovative sustainable ways to revive the restaurant scene, while also addressing the impacts of COVID-19. Through strong community networks, these organizations have found ways to help unemployed workers, keep restaurants in business, and address food waste and hunger.
Food Tank is highlighting 17 organizations reviving restaurants and the workforce while reimagining what the industry will look like post-pandemic.
1. Big Table, Washington and California
Big Table is a nonprofit that helps restaurants and hospitality workers in times of crisis. Its referral model builds networks of managers, workers, and owners to help them access crisis care in San Diego, CA Spokane, WA, and Seattle, WA. Big Table is also promoting national resources to support restaurants and the workforce.
2. Dining at a Distance, International
Dining at a Distance is an independent grassroots effort that started in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization helps keep people fed and employed by compiling restaurants and farms that are operational during COVID-19. Since it began, Dining at a Distance has spread internationally, representing cities throughout North America, Europe, and Oceania.
3. Frontline Foods, National
Frontline Foods began with a small donation to a local hospital and has transformed into a nationwide response to support frontline workers and restaurants. Frontline Foods is partnering with World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit started by Chef José Andrés, to fundraise money for restaurants to make meals for frontline workers. Through its efforts, Frontline Foods has helped support 1,125 restaurants around the country.
4. Giving Kitchen, Georgia
Giving Kitchen provides financial relief to uplift and protect food service workers in Georgia. Along with financial services, the organization provides mental and physical health resources, food, employment, and housing resources. With Giving Kitchen’s Stability Network program, a referral model connects food service workers with social services.
5. Heart of Dinner, New York
Heart of Dinner is a volunteer-based food-relief program that started to combat xenophobia and racism towards the Asian-American community during COVID-19. The organization partners with culturally appropriate restaurants to provide Asian-American senior-citizens in New York with fresh meals. Through donations, Heart of Dinner has been able to provide over 32,000 meals and help Asian-American restaurants.
6. Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC), National
The Independent Restaurant Coalition, created by and for restaurant and bar owners, works to collectively shape legislation that supports small food businesses affected by COVID-19 and subsequent lockdowns. The IRC is advocating for Congress to pass the Restaurants Act, which would create an Independent Restaurant Revitalization Fund, boosting the economy and protecting workers. A report by Compass Lexecon finds that the fund can grow the economy by US$271 billion and reduce unemployment by up to 2.4 percent.
7. James Beard Foundation, National
The James Beard Foundation is a nonprofit organization that celebrates and honors chefs and other leaders dedicated to making America’s food scene sustainable, delicious, and diverse. The Foundation started a campaign called Open For Good, which ran a Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund from March till April. Since September, the Foundation has begun the Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund for Black and Indigenous Americans. These funds serve to help restaurants rebuild better after the crisis.
8. The LEE Initiative, National
The LEE Initiative is helping revive restaurants and mend the food supply chain with its Restaurant Reboot Relief Program. The organization is committing at least US$1million to purchase food from sustainable farms in 16 regions and donate the food directly to restaurants. By investing in farmers, the organization hopes to help farmers and restaurants rebuild together. At the start of the pandemic, The LEE Initiative, in collaboration with chef Edward Lee and Maker’s Mark, started The Restaurant Worker’s Relief Program, which provided 400,000 pounds of meals and supplies to out-of-work restaurant employees.
9. Off Their Plate, National
Off Their Plate is a grassroots team dedicated to helping frontline workers. The organization offers ways to keep restaurants in business and feed communities by directing funds raised to partnering restaurants to continue staffing and prepping meals during the pandemic. For every US$100 donated, Off Their Plate sends 10 meals to those in need, which also creates a three-hour shift for workers.
10. One Fair Wage, National
One Fair Wage is a nationwide coalition advocating for policy to ensure that all workers are paid a full, fair minimum wage in addition to tips. One Fair Wage’s Emergency Fund is raising money to provide cash assistance to restaurant and service workers during the pandemic. The organization also oversees High Road Kitchens, a group of independent restaurants that give free food to low-wage workers while providing restaurant jobs. Launched during COVID-19, High Road Kitchens looks to revive and rebuild a more equitable and sustainable restaurant industry.
11. Power of 10, Washington D.C.
Started by chef and restaurateur, Erik Bruner-Yang, Power of 10 is mobilizing restaurant workers during the crisis to maintain operations and keep staff safe and employed. The program serves as a model for any city, demonstrating that donations of US$10,000 a week can provide 10 full-time jobs and 1,000 free meals to a community. So far, Power of 10 has donated 200,000 meals and provided 2,000 full-time jobs.
12. Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, National
ROC United is a nonprofit organization fighting for improved worker’s wages and working conditions. Along with providing resources for restaurants, ROC United has advocated for Congress to pass legislation and for companies to pay employees paid sick leave. ROC United’s Pandemic Relief Fund launched in March to help the restaurant employees and since then has raised over US$1 million and has helped more than 5,000 workers and their families.
13. Restaurant Workers Community Foundation (RWCF), National
Created by and for restaurant workers, RWCF advocates for opportunities to strengthen the restaurant workforce. During the pandemic, RWCF is providing relief funds and resources for restaurant workers impacted by the crisis. They use the power of restaurant workers to create a more just restaurant environment.
14. Rethink Food, New York
Rethink creates partnerships with restaurants and food businesses, sources funding to restaurants, and secures meals to those in need. Rethink has invested more than US$10 million in local communities and served more than 2 million meals.
15. Relief Opportunities for All Restaurants (ROAR), New York
ROAR is a charity organization that is donating to restaurants and employees during the pandemic. ROAR, in collaboration with Robin Hood, a poverty-fighting nonprofit in New York City, is raising funds for an NYC Restaurant Employee Relief Fund. Through its Instagram, ROAR shares action items to pass legislation in support of restaurant relief and ways to support restaurant employees.
16. Southern Smoke Foundation, Texas and National
Southern Smoke Foundation is a crisis relief organization that provides funding to individuals in the food and beverage industry. During the pandemic, Southern Smoke Foundation has expanded its operations, creating a Chicago Relief Fund for restaurant workers impacted by the crisis. So far, Southern Smoke Emergency Relief Fund has raised US$3.6 million for restaurants and workers around the country.
17. World Central Kitchen (WCK), National
WCK is supporting restaurants and consumers through partnerships, donations, and policy advocacy. WCK’s program,Restaurants for the People, provides fresh nutritious foods to communities in need and keeps small businesses running. By buying meals directly from restaurants, WCK has worked with over 2,400 restaurants and disbursed more than US$117 million.
Photo courtesy of Michael Browning, Unsplash