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How These Chefs Plan to Build Back Better

Envisioning the future of the industry

Morgan Carter

August 28, 2020

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Photo: Clay Williams

For the past few months, we've been hosting webinars as part of our Industry Support learning series. Topics have covered all facets of the current crisis, from understanding the RESTAURANTS Act, to chefs using their voice to influence policy, to addressing mental health in the kitchen, and more. Recently we chatted with chefs to discuss the failures of the traditional restaurant model and how to build a better future for the food and beverage industry.

According to Judy Ni of bao.logy, the effects of COVID-19 have only exposed structural weaknesses in the restaurant industry. “As devastating as COVID-19 is, it showed that [the restaurant industry] was built on a house of cards. This is not sustainable,” said Ni. Operating on razor thin margins, many restaurants are unable to provide adequate care to their workers, often resulting in low wages, lack of healthcare and benefits, and a reliance on tipping that encourages systemic racism, sexism, and harassment. 

“The restaurant industry is an industry that is built on exploitation, on every single level,” said James Mark of Big King and North, citing the ill treatment of farm workers and laborers to restaurant staff. The current system only breeds instability, evident by how this crisis has affected restaurants of all kinds. “If the big, famous chefs in our country can’t afford to keep this going on a private level, that is not a sign of any individual failure; it is a systemic failure.”

Looking towards the future of the industry, Mark wants to pass the torch and prep the next generation for their version of success. “I don’t need anymore accolades, I don’t need to win anything anymore. If we can have our staff move on in the next five years into positions that create success for themselves, that is what I am looking to happen right now.”

For Ni, part of building back better will lie with consumers using their dollars to support restaurants who are doing it right. “Good food costs money. I constantly say to people, when food is cheap, it is cheap on the back of someone. So whose back is your food on?” asks Ni.

Watch the full webinar for more insights. 

Check out what's on-deck for our webinar series and find past recordings here. 

Our team would like to know what topics you would like us to cover. Please email us at impact@jamesbeard.org with your suggestions on speakers, resources, and issues you would like us to host.

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