Editor’s Note: As restaurants across the country are limited to delivery and takeout, many have been forced to lay off or furlough their employees, with National Restaurant Association data showing that three million service industry workers have already lost their jobs due to COVID-19. To help their employees during this tough time, scores of chefs and restaurateurs have turned to online fundraisers.
To assist in that effort, OpenTable is now working with restaurants to help add their independent fundraisers directly onto restaurant profiles for diners to give to if they can. One OpenTable chef, Kwame Onwuachi of D.C.’s Kith/Kin, explains here why fundraisers are so important right now.
We opened Kith/Kin in October 2017. It’s an Afro-Caribbean restaurant in the InterContinental Wharf Hotel in Washington D.C., and we’ve had some success in the last few years. I was one of Food & Wine’s 2019 best new chefs, the James Beard Awards’ rising star chef of 2019, and Kith/Kin was one of Esquire’s best new restaurants that year, too. Suffice it to say, we got a lot of momentum and we’ve put a lot of hard work into our success. It’s been an amazing ride.
So it’s been really unfortunate to have to close our doors as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially without knowing when we can reopen. It was a tough, but necessary decision. I remember being tired of crying that day. I told my staff of about 60: Most importantly, thank you. Thank you for risking your health by even coming in while this epidemic was starting to build. And sorry. Sorry this is happening. Sorry we don’t have a failsafe in place for things like this. I felt like I failed as a leader. Usually you’re the one people go to for answers, and I just didn’t have them.
My staff is from all walks of life. Different genders, races, identities, ages, situations. It’s a rainbow. Our staff is very, very diverse for a fine dining restaurant — at least 80 percent people of color. I am worried about my employees being able to pay rent and feed their children three times a day. I know how it is to live paycheck to paycheck, but I don’t know how it is while also providing for your family.
So I started a fundraiser after we closed. There was great feedback immediately from both people who come eat at the restaurant frequently, as well as people who just admire from afar and have seen the progress of the restaurant and don’t want us to lose hope. We’re so thankful to our community because of the amount of support that has been shown through this time. It’s monumental and inspiring to keep going with people rooting for us. The employees are very, very thankful. One of my cooks plans to use the money to help buy diapers for his child, pay rent, and keep the fridge stocked. Another needs to keep paying his student loans and other bills. As he put it: “At this point, fundraisers are our only hope to keep things afloat.”
Restaurants are the backbone of our communities. They’re where you go from when you want to celebrate to when you are sad and need to cheer yourself up and be taken care of. But now the people who take care of you need help and to be taken care of. Three million food and beverage workers have been laid off to this point, and that could go up to seven million. That’s a big number. Restaurants not only support their staff, but the suppliers, farmers, butchers, and others who make their living in this industry, too. By donating to restaurants, you’re donating to your community. You’re making sure restaurant workers feel as if they are part of something and not forgotten.
I think Kith/Kin will reopen, because of our hotel support. But there are going to be a lot of restaurants that won’t. I’ve had my own independent restaurants, and we went paycheck to paycheck just like our staff. Just crossing our fingers, hoping that we’d make it. I feel for the restaurants that don’t care about accolades and press. Owning a restaurant was their American dream, and they saved up enough money to open, and now they have to find out how to get help. I worry about those restaurants, because those are the restaurants that I like to eat at the best.
They’re the restaurants that feed America. And we need to make sure that when this is over, we and they come out stronger and ready to get back out there. After all, we’re all in this together.