In the good times, restaurants do more than furnish meals. They provide social nourishment, help establish a sense of place and serve as gathering spots to bring people together.
As Louisiana knows all too well, that’s precisely what makes restaurants so vital during the worst of times, too -- like the massive flooding and disruptions caused by Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area.
“There will be a need for just getting back to something that’s normal, something you know, and that's what people get from restaurants,” said Stan Harris, president and CEO of the Louisiana Restaurant Association.
“It’s an emotional thing. People search out ways to connect with the life they had before (the storm). Unless you’ve experienced this, it’s just hard to imagine, but many people here have experienced it."
The LRA is now gathering money to help the Texas restaurant workers who will eventually make those connections possible as their own recovery unfolds.
The industry group has announced a Hurricane Harvey Hospitality Employee Relief Fund, working with the Commander’s Family of Restaurants and the Greater New Orleans Foundation, a community foundation that manages many different charitable funds.
The group plans to award grants to hospitality workers in partnership with the Texas Restaurant Association, and also potentially with its own regional chapters in Louisiana as Harvey’s toll is assessed.
“We’re trying like heck to make sure that when they ask, we’re ready,” said Harris. “We have national chains and national suppliers with foundations that want to do something. Across Louisiana, we’re getting lots of calls from members, saying, 'We want to help the people there like they helped us here when we needed it.' ”
After a disaster, people in the restaurant industry are often early to the scene, bringing their experience with food service to help people in need and first responders in the field.
As witnessed in other recent calamities, like last summer's flooding around Baton Rouge, the impulse to assist runs the gamut in the industry from star chefs to mom-and-pop purveyors.
For example, John Besh and a crew from his large restaurant group got to Texas last week with a mobile kitchen and began feeding thousands of people displaced by floods and the volunteers serving them.
Meanwhile, Justin Kennedy, manager of Parkway Bakery & Tavern, has been collecting new clothes for Houston first responders at his Mid-City po-boy restaurant. He plans to depart Tuesday to deliver it all, and to make a few hundred po-boys too.
As floods ravaged our state, the impulse to actively help, to get up and do something, has o…
Back home, some chefs quickly organized food-focused benefits. They include Alon Shaya, a Besh Restaurant Group chef, who with his wife Emily Shaya will host a $100-a-head red beans and rice benefit on Monday at the Pret a Fete facility in Central City, 1232 O.C. Haley Blvd., from 3 to 7 p.m.
Restaurants across the area have set up donation boxes for Second Harvest Food Bank and other agencies. Others have rolled fundraisers into their normal operations, pledging portions of proceeds to Texas organizations and relief causes.
The Bywater pizzeria Pizza Delicious will have a different beneficiary each day this week, while the restaurant group LeBlanc + Smith pledged 20 percent of sales from all its properties (Meauxbar, Sylvain, Cavan and Barrel Proof) for a whole week.
The LRA effort, meanwhile, is meant to tap professional networks within the restaurant industry and to help hospitality workers specifically.
The new fund is similar to one created after Hurricane Katrina, called the New Orleans Hospitality Workers Disaster Relief Fund. The LRA formed that fund along with Alex Brennan Martin, proprietor of Brennan’s of Houston, who is part of the family that runs Commander’s Palace and its related properties in New Orleans.
The post-Katrina fund eventually distributed more than $1 million in small grants through the LRA.
This time around, Ti Martin, with the Commander’s Family of Restaurants, helped start the new fund for Harvey relief.
“After Hurricane Katrina, the Houston community was there for New Orleans, and we'll never forget it,” she said. “Today, we are returning the favor.”
To contribute to the fund online, go to www.gnof.org/give-now/. Specify the donation is for the "Hurricane Harvey Hospitality Employee Relief Fund." Contributions by check can be sent to the Greater New Orleans Foundation at 919 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans, LA 70130.
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