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A Feel Good Story for the Food Industry


A Feel-Good Story for the Food Industry

By Patricia Tortolani | March 31, 2020 | Food & Drink

With one mission in mind—Serving Those Who Have Served Us—Lee Brian Schrager launched the SOBEWFF & FIU Chaplin School Hospitality Industry Relief Fund. This week, local restaurants will begin receiving grants to help pay their workers. This is a story of how to get it done.


It’s no secret that the hospitality industry is getting hit very hard. How are you offering support?
In mid March, when things really started to go crazy, I reached out to about 15 chefs—from Palm Beach to Miami—and asked: What’s the most important thing? And unanimously everyone said that taking care of their employees was their priority. Before rent, before vendors, it was the people they had to let go, many of whom are undocumented, that they wanted to take care of.

The SOBEWFF & FIU Chaplin School of Hospitality Industry Relief Fund launched with an initial donation of $1 million. Impressive, to say the least.
I wanted to launch it in a big way. We used $500,000 from the proceeds of the festival and then I made a few calls to Bacardi USA, Badia Spice, the Estefans, Pitbull, and we raised the other $500,000.

How are you getting the funds into the hands of the people in need?
We set up a website where restaurant owners fill out an application. And, less than a week to the date that we started the fund, we were able to start notifying applicants that they’d be receiving X amount of money as a direct deposit.

That’s an incredibly fast turnaround.
I wanted to make sure there was no red tape, to make sure we could deliver. But, yes, it was done quickly and it’s kind of gone viral. We hope to lock in a similar program in New York by the end of the week.

Let’s talk about what restaurants and bars represent for a community.
Food brings people together; it’s the common denominator. Not everyone’s into fashion, not everyone’s into sports, not everyone’s into ballet, but everyone eats. Food is the fabric of the community. Clubs, bars, restaurants, pizza places, taco stands—they are really what make a community and it’s what makes us unique in Miami, the kind of cornucopia of cuisine that exists in the city.

How will the hospitality industry look on the other side of this crisis?
It will be a long road for recovery, but I’m convinced that people are always going to want to eat and support restaurants and support their chefs and favorite bartenders. And I'm hopeful that when we get back on our feet that the industry will rise and the government and the legislature will pass bills ensuring that if this does happen again, these people are protected and covered.


Photography by: courtesy of SOBEWFF