Good Eggs: The People Helping Restaurants the Most During COVID-19
After coronavirus crippled the American hospitality industry, these distillers, companies, and chefs stepped up in major ways.
At our weekly all-staff meetings, team Food & Wine recognizes colleagues who have gone above and beyond with their collaboration, positivity, and teamwork. We call them the Good Eggs. Cheesy? Sure, we’ll own up to that. But we believe in recognizing the helpers (thank you, Mister Rogers). In that spirit, we celebrate America’s Good Eggs in the pages that follow—the folks who, as COVID-19 rocked the hospitality industry to its core, stepped up to lend a hand from remote support groups, factory floors, and restaurant kitchens.
By banding together to form coalitions, these chefs created systems of solidarity and support that are destined to outlast the pandemic.
As COVID-19 decimated businesses from coast to coast, chefs asked the same question: “Now what?” In Nashville, finding the answer started with a group text from Butcher & Bee chef Bryan Lee Weaver that grew to include chefs from all over the city, including 2018 F&W Best New Chef Julia Sullivan, who formed a coalition: Tennessee Action for Hospitality. “We launched a website to share our immediate needs so people could send a letter asking Tennessee congressmen, senators, and the governor to listen,” Sullivan says. “Within the week, we had over 4,000 people reach out.” TAH is just one of the many coalitions that formed to help the industry survive shelter-in-place orders: In New York City, chefs like David Chang, JJ Johnson, and Tom Colicchio helped found ROAR, Relief Opportunities for All Restaurants; in Seattle, over 100 independently owned restaurants and bars launched Seattle Restaurants United; in San Francisco, Brandon Jew helped organize the Bay Area Hospitality Coalition, which connects hospitality workers around the country with relief resources and garners support for restaurants in the Bay Area. While many coalitions are focused on immediate needs, Sullivan says this organizing will have a lasting impact on restaurant business models. “We have to start thinking about a safety net for the next storm.”
Across the country, spirits producers big and small shifted their resources toward keeping us safe.
By the beginning of March, the world was in desperate need of hand sanitizer. According to recommencdations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sanitizer should contain an ethanol content of at least 60%, which meant that distilleries and breweries, who produce ethanol naturally, had a unique opportunity to convert their supply into sanitizer. The only problem? It was illegal. After the distilled spirits industry appealed to the FDA to change its regulations, a temporary policy allowing distilleries to manufacture alcohol-based sanitizer was issued; meanwhile, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau waived a law requiring distilleries to obtain permits to produce sanitizer. As of press time, more than 800 distilleries in the U.S. had transitioned to producing sanitizer, from global corporations like Anheuser-Busch and Bacardí to local distilleries like Hotel Tango in Indianapolis and Westland in Seattle. Some, like Destilería Serrallés in Ponce, Puerto Rico, donated pre- bottled sanitizer directly to hospitals and first responders. Others, like Durham Distillery, allowed the public to purchase sanitizer online for curbside pickup. In Chicago, Koval Distillery started with donating sanitizer but ended up launching a GoFundMe campaign to help meet their community’s demand, all while continuing to employ their team. Koval President Sonat Birnecker Hart says that the process showed true teamwork: Companies donated bottles; Choose Chicago supplied drivers to make drop-offs around the city; Kone Corporation provided a truck and one of their engineers to help with deliveries; health care transportation company MedSpeed delivered sanitizer for free to hospitals; breweries even donated beer for Koval to distill into sanitizer. “It was an amazing community-wide effort,” Hart says.
When the coronavirus shuttered their dining rooms, these chefs put their kitchens to work for their communities.
Andrés’ nonprofit, World Central Kitchen, mobilized its global relief teams immediately, starting by feeding those aboard the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan. As of press time, WCK had served more than 6 million meals in response to the pandemic, with plans to continue feeding and fighting for doctors, nurses, first responders, children, the elderly, the homeless, and the sick. In addition, Andrés turned his shuttered Washington, D.C., restaurants into community kitchens, providing takeout meals at low or no cost to those in need. Donate to World Central Kitchen at wck.org.
With funding from his nonprofit, The LEE Initiative, and Maker’s Mark, Lee has turned restaurant kitchens across 19 cities into relief centers that have provided more than 200,000 meals and essential supplies to unemployed hospitality workers. As restaurants look toward reopening, the nonprofit is committing at least $1 million of sustainably sourced food to be distributed to those relief centers through June 2021. “These people are the backbone of the industry,” Lee says. “They cannot be forgotten.” Donate to The LEE Initiative at leeinitiative.kindful.com.
Isaac and Amanda Toups
When the owners of Toups’ Meatery in New Orleans expanded their restaurant’s daily family meal to provide free meals to those in need, they found themselves feeding between 200 and 300 people each day. They promised their hard-hit city, “We will keep feeding you as long as we can.” Support from area businesses and residents (including a $2,000 contribution from a New Orleans citizen and wine and beer from local restaurants and beer companies) has enabled the Toupses to keep cooking for free. Plus, they’re now partnering with World Central Kitchen. Contribute via Venmo (@toupsmeatery) or by calling 504-252-4999.
By partnering with Capital One, D.C.-based chef Erik Bruner-Yang took his crowd- funding initiative, The Power of 10, national. To both boost employment and feed communities in need, the initiative now operates in 30 restaurants from Dallas to NYC by using simple math: A $10,000 donation allows restaurants to hire 10 employees for a week, during which time they cook 1,000 meals for local nonprofits and hospitals. As of press time, the model had enabled independent restaurateurs to serve more than 24,000 meals. Donate at powerof10initiative.com.
“Sommeliers are a high-cost line item; we tend to be the first cut and the last to be hired back,” says 2019 F&W Sommelier of the Year Erik Segelbaum. That’s why he joined The United Sommeliers Foundation, which teamed up with Acker Wines for a benefit auction for wine professionals impacted by restaurant closures. Learn how to chip in at unitedsommeliersfoundation.org. To donate wines or spirits on behalf of the USF, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whether they’re bringing meals to overwhelmed health care workers on the front lines or to hospitality professionals temporarily out of work, these people delivered comfort in the form of a free, nutritious meal.
Crenn, a Lexus Culinary Master in the Bay Area, utilized a $50,000 donation from Lexus to employ her staff to cook and deliver meals to hospital workers at UCSF Medical Center.
Collective Fare, located at Brownsville Community Culinary Center in Brooklyn, has prepared over 6,000 meals for local family shelters, elder-care facilities, and dialysis centers. Collective Fare also donated 700 meals daily to nurses, health care workers, first responders, and food industry workers at drop-off locations scattered throughout New York City.
As financial insecurity and uncertainty become the norm for the foreseeable future, mental health providers are offering hospitality workers a much-needed lifeline.
When the pandemic hit, Ben’s Friends, one of the restaurant industry’s largest substance abuse support groups, added daily Zoom meetings to their regular offerings. “It’s a miracle, but people are getting sober during this pandemic,” says cofounder Steve Palmer. Meetings take place daily at 1 p.m. Eastern time via bensfriendshope.com.
The Lovett Center
Houston restaurateur Will Davis had first- hand experience with the industry’s struggle with mental illness. He cofounded The Lovett Center, a mental health treatment center offering free remote group therapy meetings for hospitality workers. Those seeking support can drop in at thelovettcenter.com.
A Better Life Therapy
Following the overdose of an employee soon after the pandemic struck, Ellen Yin of the High Street Hospitality Group joined forces with Gia Vecchio of Foxglove Communications and A Better Life Therapy to offer free mental health webinars for people in the hospitality industry. They also created a GoFundMe to fund pro bono, private therapy sessions with a licensed professional for anyone in the restaurant industry who needs it. Learn more at abetterlifetherapy.com.
For our continuously updated guide to recovery and mental health resources for hospitality workers, visit foodandwine.com/mentalhealthguide.
The Mask Makers
Some of our favorite culinary brands transformed into “buy one, donate one” mask production facilities in order to protect civilians, chefs, and hospital workers across the country.
As New York City slowly shuttered, cofounders Jenny Goodman and Alex McCrery supplied their seamstresses with machines and materials to create an entirely remote factory. “We are keeping our team employed and donating masks to people who need it, like chefs working on the front lines through The LEE Initiative,” says Goodman. ($18, tilitnyc.com)
Hedley & Bennett
“I saw Curtis Stone’s restaurant become a grocery store overnight,” says founder Ellen Marie Bennett, who had donated over 170,000 masks as of press time. “Seeing solution-oriented mindsets, I felt I needed to do something, too. I did not think about all the logistics; I told my team we’re going to figure it out because they need us.” ($22, hedley andbennett.com)
Best known for their colorful line of silicone spatulas and spoons, GIR (which stands for “get it right”) launched a line of reusable, medical-grade, FDA- and LFBG-approved silicone masks that can be sanitized in the dishwasher or microwave. ($30, gir.co)
Merch for Good
Stocking up on T-shirts, hats, and mugs is one of the best ways to both represent and support your favorite restaurants. The back of this tee from Portland, Maine’s iconic bagel shop Rose Foods says everything we want to say about the past couple of months. ($23, rosefoods.me)
How to Help
Support these key coalitions with a donation: Independent Restaurant Coalition: saverestaurants.com // Tennessee Action for Hospitality: tnactionforhospitality.com // Bay Area Hospitality Coalition: bayareahospitalitycoalition.com // Seattle Restaurants United: seattlerestaurantsunited.com // ROAR: roarnewyork.org // Independent Hospitality Coalition: independenthospitality.org