As D Magazine recently reported, the nationwide food service industry stands to lose about $225 billion in revenue and between 5 and 7 million jobs. Such a decline would severely wound the state of Texas considering the food service industry is its second largest employer.
“I believe without quick and impactful legislation to help aid the restaurant industry, we will look up and see that we’ve lost nearly half of our favorite local restaurants,” says Kyle Noonan, who co-owns FreeRange Concepts, which operates restaurants like the Rustic.
Noonan sees the gut-wrenching statistics as a call to action and as an opportunity to help save the food industry and support public servants or those in need. The Rustic has collected donations for over 1,000 hot chicken and cheese sandwiches that were given to Parkland Hospital workers. (You can still help by donating another round of sandwiches and post-shift beers.)
Alexis Smith, a marketing manager, and Alex Perry, a real estate agent, founded a similar initiative with a different target. The couple created the Kids Save Dallas Restaurants GoFundMe. Their goal is to raise $100,000 to purchase gift cards from numerous Dallas restaurants including Terry Black’s Barbecue, Eno’s Pizza Tavern, Easy Slider, Al Biernat’s, and Yummy Donuts. The couple will then donate the gift cards to the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center, which provides healing services to victims of child abuse. Now the organization can provide free meals to children, too.
“I think the hospitality industry as a whole is just getting destroyed,” Perry says. “What we’re realizing [is that] every dollar counts. Literally, these restaurant owners are being brought to tears. We’ve had restaurant owners tell us…that this is the only good news they’ve had in two weeks.”
Some restaurants are using GoFundMe, or promotions, discounts, and tips, to continue paying their hourly staff. MoMo Italian Kitchen on Forest Lane, like many Dallas restaurants, remains open for takeout though it’s had to lay off some hourly workers. The restaurant created a GoFundMe “staff relief fund” so that customers can continue to “tip” its kitchen and wait staff.
Another initiative is Get Shift Done for North Texas, created by local businessmen Anurag Jain and Patrick Brandt. With the money they raise, Get Shift Done will hire laid off food industry employees at $10 per hour to work shifts at nonprofit organizations such as the North Texas Food Bank. Get Shift Done plans to, per week, serve over 1 million meals while paying out more than $250,000 in wages to over one thousand workers.
Catering is perhaps hit hardest of all. “We feed gatherings, that’s what we do,” John Gilbert, the president and owner of G Texas Catering, says. But with a shelter in place order, gatherings are clearly canceled. “At this point, it’s not about profits, it’s about getting [our employees] some income, putting them to work.” To that end, Gilbert created Somebody to Feed, a website where, if you’re either a caterer or a food-insecure person, you can sign up to offer or request meal services. “Any budget,” Gilbert explains about the latter. “Someone reaches out and says, ‘I need four meals and I have a very low budget.’ Then, one of our vendors will pick that up and fill that need.”
So far, 18 catering organizations have signed up for Somebody to Feed, including Food Glorious Food, Creative Cuisine, and Eddie Dean, along with G Texas Catering. “These catering companies cater to the most high-end social events in Dallas,” Gilbert says. “So, you’re talking about the best menus and it can be delivered cold, with heating instructions, or it can be delivered hot. Any type of food you can imagine.”
Somebody to Feed has prepared meals and transported them to homeless shelters. They’ve delivered meals to firefighters and emergency workers, who need to avoid grocery shopping to limit their exposure to germs. They’ve brought meals to a law office, whose office building cafeteria shut down. They can even get meals to low-income people stuck at home, afraid to ride DART but without a personal car.
“One vendor said that they’re going to donate a thousand meals, so for every meal that they serve, they’re going to donate a meal to people that are hungry.” Gilbert says as he clears his throat. “I tear up even talking about it.”
While the outpour of community support is undeniably uplifting, this is, of course, a short-term solution for what will continue to affect the hospitality industry for months to come.