In the weeks since the coronavirus pandemic and accompanying region-wide shelter-in-place order dealt a devastating blow to the Bay Area restaurant industry, there has been a steady stream of petitions and initiatives launched in order to help keep restaurants afloat. There are websites that are designed to steer customers toward buying restaurant gift cards or making GoFundMe donations, and organizations that focus on pushing for government relief or redirecting restaurants to feed those in need.
It can all be a lot to keep track of, says Brandon Jew, chef and co-owner of the two-Michelin-starred Chinatown restaurant Mister Jiu’s. But today, Jew and several of his peers are adding another effort to the mix: the Bay Area Hospitality Coalition, which launched a new website today.
According to the coalition’s own description on the site:
From front of the house to the back of the house, the farms and suppliers, and everywhere in between, we come from every link in the chain of hospitality and restaurant life. Our lives are currently in peril due to COVID-19, and being based in the Bay makes our circumstances and difficulties unique. We’re here to solve these problems together, so that we can bring the thriving scene we’re known for back.
Practically speaking, Jew says the idea is for the website to function as a kind of one-stop shop: a compilation of links for anyone in the restaurant industry — whether they’re a server or the owner of a small neighborhood restaurant — who needs help navigating, for instance, the various grants and loan programs that are out there right now, with specific resources for mental health and undocumented workers as well. “I just thought we need to be able to reach anyone who didn’t know where to look for some of these resources,” Jew says. “We wanted it to come from a place that’s not backed by any corporation or company or anything like that — it’s just this grassroots group of industry people.”
In addition to its goal as a resource hub, the coalition is a lobbying group: The website prominently lists a list of five demands — specific ways that the federal, state, and local governments should intervene on behalf of the local restaurant industry, from increasing and extending unemployment benefits for furloughed restaurant workers to things like rent abatement and pushing insurance companies to honor business interruption insurance claims. In that sense, the Bay Area Hospitality Coalition is adding its voice to the efforts of established lobbying groups like the Golden Gate Restaurant Association (which advocates on behalf of Bay Area restaurants) and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce (which represents San Francisco businesses at the local, state, and federal level).
This coalition is also very much a work in progress. According to Jew, the coalition started off as a series of conversations between a larger group of chefs, but seven core members eventually emerged: Mourad Lahlou (Aziza, Mourad), Kim Alter (Nightbird), Chris Cosentino (Cockscomb), Brian Jacobs (the GM of Rich Table), Gwyneth Borden (a politically connected hospitality consultant and former executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association), Kimberly Zerkel (who does PR for the Crenn Dining Group), and Jew himself. As a group, they hold Zoom video meetings five days a week, Monday through Friday, to discuss how to Bay Area restaurants are going to get to a point where they’ll be able to reopen, how to boost the collective morale of the local hospitality industry, and how best to apply pressure on government agencies.
It’s a group that, as Jew himself quickly points out, skews heavily toward a certain tier of prominent San Francisco restaurant — the kind with chefs and restaurant owners who tend to get nominated for national awards — and doesn’t yet include the kind of broad representation he’d like to see. There aren’t currently any servers, bartenders, or farmers in the group, for instance. There aren’t any East Bay or South Bay restaurants represented, nor are there any smaller, less heralded restaurants, which surely have their own set of interests that might not entirely overlap with the Azizas or Nightbirds of the world — including the small restaurants in Chinatown that cater to a very different clientele than, say, Mister Jiu’s.
As Jew explains, “I don’t know how else to get them involved other than to say we want them involved” — to launch the website and to essentially put out an open call for new coalition members.
Part of the goal, Jew says, is to eventually try to get an audience with people like U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris or California Gov. Gavin Newsom. But the five specific action items on the coalition’s wish list will likely evolve as a broader array of restaurant industry folks join the conversation — and the Zoom chat — and add their own perspectives, Jew says: “That’s the heart of this group and this website. Just to be able to open up that conversation.”
In the face of #covid19, now is the time for unity & action. We are the @BayHospitality, sharing resources & asking our elected leaders to provide relief to #saverestaurants. @RepThompson @speakerpelosi @RoKhanna @kamalaharris @cagovernor @londonbreed @gavinnewsom @LibbySchaaf pic.twitter.com/D0TCzbhNCd— BayAreaHospitalityCoalition (@BayHospitality) April 6, 2020