Maker’s Mark and Chef Lee’s Restaurant Workers Relief Project – Business Insider – Business Insider

Restaurant News
  • Maker’s Mark Distillery and Chef Edward Lee launched the Restaurant Workers Relief Project to help feed hospitality workers who have been furloughed by the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • The Restaurant Workers Relief Project has expanded to include 14 locations nationwide that are providing hot meals and supplies to hospitality workers in need.
  • So far, the project has served 26,000 meals and is ramping up to serve 600 people per day.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Seven nights a week, hospitality workers furloughed by COVID-19 restaurant closures are finding help from some of America’s most beloved restaurants. 

Keeping a six-foot distance, and practicing no-touch handoffs, these workers are picking up supplies and free hot meals prepared by leading chefs through the Restaurant Workers Relief Project.

The project grew from a partnership between Maker’s Mark Distillery and Kentucky Chef Edward Lee’s LEE Initiative, and it launched March 17th from Chef Lee’s Louisville restaurant, 601 Magnolia. In just two weeks, it has spread to kitchens across the country.

With funding from Maker’s Mark, the program distributes hot chef-cooked meals along with a host of supplies including non-perishable food, diapers, and baby care items, and a drugstore’s worth of personal hygiene items. Restaurant and bar workers show an ID and a paystub from recent employment in hospitality and pick it all up curbside. 

“If we don’t take a stand and do something now, there will not be an independent restaurant industry to speak of when the coronavirus crisis is over,” said Chef Lee, a 6-time James Beard nominee who has been enthusiastically promoting the relief program on Instagram with shout-outs to his fellow chefs for joining up.

“You always have each others’ backs”

The program came about spontaneously. Maker’s Mark whisky maker Rob Samuels, grandson of the company’s founder Bill Sr., reached out to Chef Lee asking how the distillery could help the many establishments they supplied.

“The hospitality community is tight-knit – those that are a part of it know that there is an unspoken rule you always have each others’ backs,” Samuels told Business Insider. “When we saw how quickly the COVID-19 crisis was impacting the livelihood of our friends in this community, we knew that we had a responsibility to them to help in any ways we had the means to.”

The LEE Initiative (Let’s Empower Employment), which Lee co-founded in 2017 with Lindsay Ofcacek, was a natural fit thanks to a prior partnership with Maker’s Mark and its mission to promote equality and diversity in the restaurant industry.

“When the LEE Initiative first began discussing the idea of a relief kitchen, we didn’t think twice – we gathered our resources and put our full support behind this program, starting with the Louisville location and branching out to the rest of the country from there,” Samuels said. Like other grassroots restaurant relief programs, it’s working to anticipate future needs.

Inspiring action nationwide

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An example of one of the menus and supplies available to hospitality workers through the Restaurant Workers Relief Project.

Maker’s Mark Instagram

On the first night, 400 people arrived at 601 Magnolia to pick up food and supplies. Since then, the program has grown to serve a total of 26,000 meals, so far. 

Chef Lee expanded the program to his Washington DC restaurant Succotash, and chefs around the country, inspired by the action, joined up quickly to match the growing need.

In New Orleans, a kitchen is operating at Cochon under Chef Donald Link; in Los Angeles, chef Nancy Silverton is spearheading efforts out of her restaurant chi SPACCA; Chef Jose Salazar is cooking and serving at Mita’s in Cincinnati; Chef Alon Shaya is operating a kitchen out of Denver’s Safta; and Chef Edouardo Jordan is up and running in Seattle’s Salare. In Brooklyn, Chef Nate Adler of Gertie and Chef Greg Braxtrom of Olmsted have both embraced the effort. 

Other restaurants that have joined the program are Blue Dragon in Boston, Riel in Houston, Great Bagel & Bakery in Lexington, and West Town Bakery with Chef Chris Texiera in Chicago. And in Atlanta, four different establishments are taking distribution shifts under the oversight of Chef Linton Hopkins.  

All and all, the partnership is serving hospitality workers in 14 centers based out of restaurants nationwide. 

Maker’s Mark said it’s provided funding for food and supplies for 600 people a day for seven days in each location, to start, along with manpower to help with distribution. Additional funding is coming from the local communities of each restaurant distribution center, and new relief kitchens are in the works.  

“It is inspiring to see how many people are coming together at this moment to donate money, food, time, energy and creativity,” Lee said. “It is this spirit of humanity that will get us through this crisis.”

The Maker’s Mark Instagram Feed and those of each restaurant distribution center are now filled with heartwarming photos of restaurant workers carrying away boxes overflowing with food and supplies.

“It’s never easy to watch friends struggle, and it’s been truly difficult to see some of our favorite chefs and bartenders question whether they’ll be able to weather the storm,” Samuels said. “We’re grateful to have partners like Chef Lee and all the other chefs who have come together with us to open their kitchens in order to take care of those that need help right now.”

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