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Coronavirus Impact: Nearly Half of Americans Are Told to Stay Home and Facebook Tries to Keep the Lights On

  • March 25, 2020

So on Monday, she walked to Salare restaurant for something no one could have imagined a few weeks ago: a soup kitchen of sorts for restaurant workers, set up by the restaurant. For the first time, an industry built on caring for other people is struggling to figure out how to care for its own.

Around the country, restaurant customers and owners have mounted efforts, large and small, to raise money for workers, including at least 6,000 online efforts at to help the cooks and waiters at their favorite spots. The Jean-Georges restaurant group has raised more than $100,000 on the site. In Marquette, Mich., residents have collected about $13,000. The need in the town was so great that organizers had to limit the first round of giving to the first 200 workers who signed up.

In Seattle, Ms. Fennessy was one of about 40 laid-off restaurant workers who showed up at Salare to get a spaghetti-and-meatball dinner, and a bagel and hard-boiled egg for the next day’s breakfast. The chef and owner, Edouardo Jordan, hopes to give away 200 meals a day.

Mr. Jordan used $10,000 in grant money from the LEE Initiative, a small foundation that the chef Edward Lee in Louisville, Ky., set up years ago to train the next generation of women chefs and young hospitality workers. With that seed money, Mr. Lee was able to create what is fast becoming a chain of restaurant-based relief centers.

Mr. Jordan’s operation is one of 13 that the LEE Initiative is financing at restaurants around the nation to feed unemployed hospitality workers. Feeding centers are about to open in cities including Atlanta, Denver and, on Thursday, Brooklyn, at the restaurants Gertie and Olmsted.

The efforts are part of the Restaurant Workers Relief Program, which Mr. Lee started with financial help from the Kentucky bourbon distillery Maker’s Mark a week ago, after Kentucky’s governor closed that state’s dining rooms. Mr. Lee realized that he and other restaurateurs in Louisville had refrigerators packed with perishable food, no customers and an unemployed work force that would no longer receive daily staff meals or paychecks.

The first night he served 250 people. The lines kept growing. In two days, he was serving 400 people an hour.

“They are in a state of shock and panic and they are desperate,” Mr. Lee said. “We had grown men crying. Families with disabled children. They don’t have a safety net. We are literally trying to hold society together.”

More traditional aid efforts are also underway. The James Beard Foundation quickly assembled a Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund. There’s a Bartender Emergency Assistance Program, and a fund created by the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation to raise money for workers, and provide interest-free loans to restaurants that will need help reopening once it is safe to do so.

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