How to Help Restaurants Now from Top Chef Contestants
Local communities are stepping up in light of the COVID-19 crisisJBF Editors
April 23, 2020
In the midst of sweeping shelter-in place orders, quarantines, and restaurant/bar closures due to COVID-19, a familiar cooking competition made its return to television: Top Chef. For its second all-stars season, the series brought together 15 returning “cheftestants” to battle for the coveted title. On television, these chefs spend week after week tackling multiple challenges, but at home they are facing the harsh impact of the pandemic on their restaurants, staff, and livelihoods. In the second part of this series, we asked these chefs the best way for their community to uplift restaurants in their time of need. From donating funds to calling your representatives, here are ways to help the industry straight from the contestants.
JBF: What is the best way for consumers to show their support for the restaurant industry?
Kevin Gillespie, Gunshow, Revival, Cold Beer, Gamechanger, and Ole Reliable, Atlanta: The easiest and safest way to help a restaurant is to purchase merchandise: t-shirts, mugs, koozies, etc. They aren’t perishable, they can be purchased as the weeks go on, and there’s a low risk of contamination. Another suggestion is gift cards; they are great because they front-load money into [restaurant] accounts. [Gift cards] don’t expire the day after we come back to work, so maybe wait a minute before using them or space them throughout the year.
Jamie Lynch, 5 Church Restaurants and Sophia’s Lounge, Charlottesville, NC: Look for restaurants and farms in your community that have food available and order from them! The farms need our support, too, as most of them sell to the chefs and restaurants [that are now closed]. Call or message your Congressmen and -women and push for legislature that will help rebuild the restaurant industry and support our workers. Follow the Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC) to engage. There is power in numbers.
Nini Nguyen, NYC: First and foremost, STAY HOME. I feel like we are in kindergarten and we can't move on to the next thing because some of the kids are not following the rules. Second, we need financial support from the government, and people can call their local representatives. Restaurants are the backbone of our economy, and without us, it will take a lot longer to rebuild. We are not asking for a bail-out because we haven't done anything wrong. We are asking for the same help that other industries are receiving.
Joe Sasto, Los Angeles: On a larger scale, people need to understand that the independent restaurant industry needs to be classified differently than the restaurant industry at large. Most of these big box chains and corporations are going to survive hitting the "pause" button during this pandemic, while the small owners and operators will not have the cash flows. Every email and phone call to Congress, city councilmen, and representatives makes a difference in getting our voice heard and receiving the help we need.
JBF: How has your local community stepped up to help the dining scene?
Eric Adjepong, Pinch & Plate, Washington, D.C.: We have restaurants turning into food pantries and miniature grocery stores. My clients have been pre-booking dinner parties with me, which I'm so appreciative of. It's also nice to just get a call or an email to check in on my family and me.
Jennifer Carroll, Carroll Couture Cuisine, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.: In Philadelphia I am working with over 60 other restaurateurs for savephillyrestaurants.com. We have been fighting for our needs and sharing our issues and concerns directly to our representatives and senators. Two Philly start-up founders—Anthony Bucci and David Bookspan—funded and launched savephillyeats.com where chefs and restaurants can sell future custom experiences, offers, and incentives to welcome back their guests once the closures are lifted.
Kevin Gillespie: As an employer, I am not legally allowed to give my unemployed or furlough employees money or it will jeopardize their unemployment. So if you see an independent fund that has been set up, donate to that.
Brian Malarkey, Herb & Wood and Animae, San Diego: There’s a lot going on to support our suppliers, vendors, and staff, which is heartening to see. Some restaurants have stepped up to create grocery bags for furloughed employees; local fishermen are selling their catch at wholesale prices; [and] individuals are working with local farmers to create their own CSA boxes.
The James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund provides critical financial assistance to small, independent restaurants that have been impacted by COVID-19. Click here to learn more and to donate.
Top Chef airs Thursdays at 10pm EST/9pm central on Bravo.