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Culture is shifting beneath us, and waves of uncertainty are drastically changing businesses. From recent past weeks to the unforeseeable future, the food and beverage industry is grappling with how to succeed while virtually remaining closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We’ve been checking in on creatives to see how they’re holding up, and our dear mixologists and chefs around the world are providing mixed responses. While honest about their concerns and hopeful for positive outcomes business-wise, they’re wondering what’s next.
Recently, Whitewall heard from Clare Reichenbach, the CEO of The James Beard Foundation (JBF). As an organization that’s used to leading the industry with promise and support, it’s continuing that message. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, JBF launched The James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund, aiming to bring economic relief to businesses.
Here, Reichenbach also recommends three ways we can help restaurants right now, which social media groups are providing information and petitions, and why it’s important to make dining reservations for the future right now.
WHITEWALL: Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, officials in many large cities have decided to physically close all restaurants and bars, with a small portion offering takeout and delivery only. This is greatly impacting business, and the owners of these establishments. What type of assistance are you hoping to see from the government, the public, and anyone else who can help?
CLARE REICHENBACH: Our ask is three-fold. First, there are a number of different ways that consumers can support restaurants now. Many restaurants are turning themselves into pantries to help meet consumer demand, for example. Regular patrons can also make a point to buy gift cards or merchandise, and order take-out or delivery.
We’re also looking to state governments to provide emergency assistance and consider actions like a delay in tax bills or rent to help stop the immediate drain of cash flow and put restaurants in a better position to return. The federal government also needs to step in and provide larger relief.
Of course, some of these steps will take time, but it’s important that everyone makes a concerted point to do their part now in order to bailout an industry that is woven into the social and cultural fabric of our country.
WW: Are there any establishments on the Foundation’s list that are doing exceptional things right now to help bring relief to those impacted by the pandemic?
CR: Louisville chef Edward Lee and his Lee Initiative immediately come to mind. Together with managing director Lindsay Ofcacek, he has launched the COVID-19 Crisis Relief Fund, which essentially turned 610 Magnolia into a community center for restaurant workers in need. There, they’re offering complimentary to-go meals, as well as supplies like toilet paper, baby food and Tylenol.
Another group of restaurant industry professionals created supportrestaurants.org. The site is an aggregator of restaurants offering “dining bonds,” which you can purchase at a lower rate and redeem for a higher rate in the future—much like a savings bond.
It’s truly inspiring to see such compassion and creativity. We have a link on our website where we’re sharing ideas and resources for restaurants.
WW: The Foundation recently hosted a webinar for chef and restaurateurs to discuss the impact of COVID-19. Can you give us a few highlights from the webinar? What was discussed and how are you seeing those on the webinar band together?
CR: During the webinar, we reviewed best practices for social distancing and hygiene, and different ways restaurants can continue to be vital parts of their communities (e.g., monitoring the health and well-being of their employees). We also spoke about the funds that are currently available—and what might become available—and how culinary industry leaders can lobby their respective state governments and federal agencies for greater support.
Chefs, meanwhile, have banded together in every community across the country—Austin instituted a worker relief fund, and Madison (WI), San Francisco, and Chicago are already coordinating efforts to advocate to state governments, with many more cities right behind them.
WW: We’ve been checking in with chefs and hospitality leaders that we’re close with to ensure they were safe and healthy. How is the Foundation’s network communicating with each other on a more personal basis right now?
CR: The communication and the compassion among this network are absolutely amazing. So many of our chefs have already reached out to one another to offer support or advice, and the community has really rallied together.
Two Facebook groups launched actually in the wake of the pandemic. One, called the Hospitality Industry Alliance COVID-19, provides a constant exchange of information, articles, and petitions. Another, called Industry United, is helping chefs and restaurant professionals navigate the business implications.
The flow of information is just constant and across all channels, and we’re so pleased to see, although not necessarily surprised, chefs responding in the way that they do—building community and taking action.
WW: When people are able to go back to regular dining, what are some restaurants you recommend visiting?
CR: When the time comes, we should support each of our neighborhood restaurants—big and small, fast casual and fine dining. In fact, now is the time to call and make that anniversary or birthday reservation and let them know they have your support.