Last August, we launched our industry-facing website, openforgood.com, as a way to bring all of the resources the James Beard Foundation and other organizations have been creating and collecting together on one easy-to-use platform. In addition to these resources, openforgood.com also features Mentorship presented by KitchenAid. Through this initiative, the mentorship platform aims to provide emerging culinary talent with critical support, educational tools, and resources they need to advance their professional careers and businesses, even in the face of a difficult recovery. Our roster of mentors includes chefs, restaurateurs, culinary instructors, financial advisors, and more that are poised to provide support to motivated individuals looking to learn and grow.
We spoke to financial expert Michael Schiller about how best to navigate unforeseen costs caused by the pandemic.
James Beard Foundation: Have you had a mentorship relationship that changed your career?
Michael Schiller: My mentor was someone who was a former educator, and then after he he retired, he started working in the financial field. His mantra was providing investments and retirement plans for people that were in the more neglected spaces—your educators, teachers, people who work for the government, nonprofit organizations—and providing benefits for these underserved industries. He taught me that the number one thing is to make sure that people are being provided things that they need, not just things that you sell.
With your background in insurance and finance, what kind of advice do you give to restaurants that are looking to reopen during COVID?
Schiller: A lot of restaurants that I worked with before the pandemic had plenty of setup for everything they need[ed] to run a business. Before this happened, there were things that people never really thought about like, ’What happens if an entire industry closes?’ or ‘What happens if one of my customers comes in and gets sick. Is that my fault?’ Do your own research to see what [insurance] you have, and then we’ll fill in the gaps because things have changed. There are plans that are set up to help people, but you have to make sure that works for you, specifically.
What are the major concerns you are hearing regarding restaurant owners and the pandemic?
Schiller: First and foremost, people are worried about, ‘How do we get open and make sure that we’re following the guidelines?’ But other concerns are, ‘How do I make sure I have the right protections [and] how do I afford it?’ When times are good—it’s just a part of your bottom line. But now costs are coming out of things that are not normal restaurant costs. (Restaurants aren’t [usually] buying 25 propane heaters to put outside the restaurant.) That’s what I try to navigate.
What other resources should restaurant owners be looking into to protect and support their employees?
Schiller: What’s happened in restaurants—or any industry that’s been shuttered, for that matter—is that people don’t have money saved [or] they don’t have enough money to use in an emergency. Restaurants can offer retirement plans, streamlined 401Ks, [or] add on disability plans. You can build more long-term employees because they can build with you.