At a time of unprecedented danger and tumult for the restaurant industry and its workers, several celebrity chefs have stepped forward to ask for help. Their request: a government-sanctioned bar and restaurant relief aid package.
Many restaurants around the country are shuttering because of the coronavirus outbreak, and, in several cities and states, establishments that are still open can only serve take-out and delivery to customers. The dire circumstances—and the loss of millions of dollars in operating revenue—have prompted high-profile chefs like Curtis Stone, Alice Waters and Reem Assil to launch a Change.org campaign calling for a government bailout of the entire industry. Posted on Tuesday, the campaign had already garnered over 80,000 signatures as of press time.
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The petition urges politicians to “engage with local industry leaders and restaurant associations immediately to come to a swift plan,” while noting that each plan must be region-specific. It also lays out five points of action. These include: providing emergency medical benefits for all workers, waving the payroll tax, endorsing rent and loan abatement, loosening liquor license restrictions to allow the sale and delivery of alcohol, and waving zoning and permit restrictions to allow restaurants spaces to be turned into markets.
“For years, chefs, bartenders and restaurant and bar owners have contributed to our communities, routinely providing food, service and auction items to fundraisers and other charity events, even though we earn precious little ourselves,” the petition states. “Now, we need help from our communities and government.”
In addition to Stone, Waters and Assil, other big-name signatories include David Kinch, Marc Forgione and Nancy Silverton. In total 50 chefs and restaurateurs added their name to the petition, from cities like New York, Los Angeles, Portland, Denver and Honolulu.
Indeed, chefs across the country have become increasingly vocal as the coronavirus crisis has metastasized. Following Illinois governor J.B. Pritzer’s decision to close all of the state’s bars and restaurants, Chicago’s independent chefs community, which includes industry heavyweights Rick Bayless, Stephanie Izard and Paul Kahan, called on the governor to protect the workers whom the decision directly affected.
“Governor, we are counting on you to help the restaurant workers of Illinois,” a statement posted by Bayless to Instagram read. “We elected you. You are acting bravely. Show us what those people with both power and means intend to do for people who have none.”
On Wednesday, in a press release announcing that Union Square Hospitality Group had been forced to lay off 2,000 employees, restauranteur Danny Meyer, called on the government to step in help the thousands and thousands of workers being affected not just in New York but country wide.
“If ever there were a time to call on the government to provide enlightened leadership, it is now,” he wrote in the statement. “Our employees need that support to sustain their livelihoods while waiting for our restaurants to reopen. I am calling on our city, state, and federal leadership to step in with a full emergency relief package for restaurant and bar workers, and I pledge my immediate service—on behalf of, and along with other industry leaders—to help come up with economic solutions that work for all.”
While chefs and restaurants workers petition lawmakers to act, there is still plenty that general public can do to help out. As detailed on this website this week, diners can buy gift certificates to favorite restaurants (and save them for when the establishment opens up again); they can participate in the Dining Bonds initiative or donate to employee relief funds like Emergency Fund or San Antonio Tip Jar. Donations to the local food bank are also helpful.
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