Southern Smoke to Federal Leaders: Help the Restaurant Industry

Those behind the Houston-based organization have co-authored an op-ed calling on a plan.

By Timothy Malcolm September 1, 2020

We're in the sixth month of life with the Covid-19 pandemic—six months of undeniable impacts that include job losses, pay cuts, and compromised child care options and of more questions than answers about the future of various industries worldwide.

The restaurant industry has been hit especially hard. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics via the National Restaurant Association, after more than 6 million restaurant jobs were lost over March and April, the industry hasn't yet rebounded completely. Approximately 3.5 million jobs were gained from May to July, though growth slowed in July. 

In Texas, restaurants that want to offer dine-in service are still being asked to operate with a guest capacity that's 50 percent of their standard capacity. Takeout and delivery are also available at many restaurants, but money earned from those services typically pales in comparison to what is made in the main dining room. 

Essentially, we're six months into the pandemic and restaurants are still stuck in a nebulous state. Some have closed permanently, including all locations of Bernie's Burger Bus, Poitín, Penny Quarter, Tropicales, the Market Square Treebeard's, and Blackbird Izakaya, not to mention bars like Alice's Tall Texan and Lucky's Pub in EaDo. Other restaurants have opened and closed, then opened and closed again, and for various reasons. Some restaurants have pivoted in interesting ways, from Local Foods opening a market inside its locations to Rosie Cannonball turning a shuttered concept into an entirely new outdoor concept.

While all these shifts and moves continue, some of those watching over the restaurant industry are making noise. On Monday Southern Smoke Foundation co-founder Chris Shepherd and executive director Kathryn Lott, and Restaurant Workers' Community Foundation co-founders John deBary and Michael Remaley published an op-ed calling on federal leaders to aid the restaurant industry.

"Restaurant workers aren't OK," begins the op-ed. "America's restaurants and their workers are, yet again, on the brink of disaster, and no amount of delivery service, to-go cocktails, or al fresco dining will save them."

The authors write that restaurant workers are living with "months of unpaid rent" and owners have been forced to pivot their businesses in order to remain in operation safely. These conditions, they conclude, are untenable, and they fear that federal leaders won't listen to their pleas for help.

"It's clear that America's vacationing politicians don't understand or value the restaurant industry, despite the fact that it generates $899 billion in sales, nor do they recognize the growing crisis for America's 15.6 million restaurant workers," they write. "Without a federal plan to back-stop restaurants and provide adequate aid and an employment plan to tap into workers' skills and desire to work in safe, well-paid jobs, the prospects for more restaurant workers looks increasingly dire."

Southern Smoke has been on the front lines of helping those in the industry with greatest need. In August the organization—which aids hospitality professionals in emergency situations—distributed $173,220 in funds to restaurant workers in need. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has raised and given back approximately $3 million to workers across the country. 

But now the goal for both Southern Smoke and the Restaurant Workers' Community Foundation is for President Trump and congressional leaders to create a plan that fully addresses and acts upon the hardships facing the industry at large.

To read the entire op-ed, visit the Restaurant Workers' Community Foundation website.

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