In March, when states and local governments began handing down stay-at-home edicts to curb the spread of the coronavirus and subsequently closed restaurant dining rooms, a very common line of thought was things would get back to normal sooner than later. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. According to the National Restaurant Association, more than 5.5 million restaurant workers had lost their jobs through mid-May. And as I write this, many dining rooms across the country remain dark as some states cautiously start to develop plans to reopen their economies.
Piercing this darkness, though, are rays of light representing the foodservice industry’s unwillingness to let a bad situation get the best of them.
Take, for example, Epic Burger CEO Kyle Welch. One year after acquiring the better-burger chain with the intent to refine and grow the concept, Welch had to close several restaurants and lay off 85% of its staff. After a few stressful days and a well-earned afternoon cry in his living room, Welch did what so many people in this industry regularly do: He got back to work. He looked for a way not to give himself a boost but to shine a little light into the lives of Epic Burger’s employees, supply chain partners and the greater Chicagoland community.
From that came Feeding Chicago, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide roughly 10,000 meals to those in need each week. To accomplish such lofty goals, Feeding Chicago features a team of A-listers from the Chicago restaurant community. The organization developed a scalable infrastructure, tested it first with Epic Burger and rolled it out from there.
The results have been truly transformative. “Restaurant partners that used to fight over the same lunch and dinner rush are in it together now,” Welch said. “It’s a joy to be able to provide meals to people but there’s such sadness to realize how many people are really in need of meals.”
Feed Chicago’s mission transcends the COVID-19 pandemic. The intent is to keep feeding folks in need even after this wretched virus is part of our past, whenever that may be. “This is not just about reviving the restaurants during tough times and feeding frontline employees,” Welch said. “We know the impact of this will go much deeper and longer and will impact the neighborhoods in our city.”
Food represents a basic need, something to which we can all relate. That’s why these generous feeding initiatives remain front and center in our national conversation about the way people and organizations continue to do their part to help soften the pandemic’s punch. But there’s lots happening behind the scenes as the supply chain does its part, too.
Take, for example, Brad Pierce of Restaurant Equipment World (page 20). An avid aviator, Pierce donates his time — and airplane — as part of an organization known as AEROBridge Disaster Relief. Along with his fellow pilots, Pierce participates in missions flying personal protection equipment to those who need it throughout the country at his own expense. All this is happening as his company, long a purveyor of PPE, continues to meet customers’ insatiable demand for these products.
Fighting an invisible foe like the coronavirus can seem like getting pelted with lemons daily. But by stopping to take a sip of the lemonade made by your fellow foodservice pros like Welch, Pierce and countless others, you might be refreshed enough to press onward toward more prosperous times.