Kitchen staff at Topolobampo in Chicago where Houston's Southern Smoke Foundation is helping establish the Chicago Restaurant Workers Relief Fund. (Instagram photo)
Blackbird of Chicago posts an Instagram lament early in the COVID-19 disaster. (Instagram photo)
In Chicago, Monteverde chef Sarah Grueneberg (Instagram photo, Gladones Photography)
Chef Chris Shepherd cancels his beloved Southern Smoke Spring in light of the coronavirus threat. Photo by John Davidson)
The 2016 Southern Smoke was an all-star event. Here's the HOUBBQ Collective — Chris Shepherd, Justin Yu, Seth Siegel-Gardner, Ryan Pera, Terrence Gallivan. (Photo by Julie Soefer.)
Houston-based Southern Smoke Foundation, created by James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Shepherd, has dished out almost $3 million since mid-March in emergency relief funds nationwide for restaurant, bar and coffee shop workers devastated financially by the fallout from COVID-19. Acknowledging that powerful impact, the storied James Beard Foundation has connected Southern Smoke with anonymous donors interested in assisting restaurant industry workers in Chicago.
McKinsey & Company estimates that nearly half a million food service jobs in the Chicago metro area are at risk. The area boasts more than 7,300 restaurants and 40 James Beard Award winners and is traditionally home to the James Beard Award ceremonies ( they’re going virtual this year).
The generous donors and Southern Smoke have launched the Chicago Restaurant Workers Relief Fund available to restaurant, bar and coffee shop workers throughout Cook County. In addition, the donors have agreed to match up to $1 million in donations, which would bring the total available to Cook County restaurant workers to $6 million. And in a further exhibition of largesse, the donors are covering administrative expenses for the matched funds.
“Our industry is in a dire situation. Our workers are the most vulnerable and are disproportionately affected by this crisis — and, in all honesty, in almost every crisis,” Shepherd said in a statement. “We launched the Emergency Relief Fund after Hurricane Harvey decimated Houston, and so many restaurant workers suffered.
“It took that crisis for us to realize that our industry desperately needs a safety net. Southern Smoke is here to ensure that our people can survive. And we’re so glad to have this opportunity to support the restaurant workers of Chicago.”
Prior to creation of the Chicago Emergency Relief Fund, Southern Smoke had granted 22 Chicago-based applications totaling $46,449. Two examples of those aided by the fund: restaurant server Ruth Rodriguez of Mexico, who received funds to pay for two months of car notes, rent and utilities, and cook Michael Shawn Clendening Jr., who was helped with rent.
While Southern Smoke’s national Emergency Relief Fund supports everyone in the food and beverage industry, including farmers, distillery workers, wine makers, beverage delivery drivers, the Chicago fund is dedicated to restaurant, bar and coffee shop employees.