Down to the Studs – Part 1

I’ve sat down several times in the past three months to write and I’ve been stopped: Where to begin? The restaurant industry is in pieces. There was much that needed fixing before the pandemic. Five months ago, my commitment to transform the restaurant world had one dimension. I focused on people’s experience at work and spent the past two years making an impact there. This pandemic has made something clear: whether it’s in the way that restaurants are financed, real estate is negotiated or workers experience their work environment, everything must change.

Fast forward five months. Overnight most restaurants either shuttered, laid off staff or pivoted to take-out and delivery. This was a BIG fucking breakdown. Now the rest of the world is suddenly present to how fragile our industry is and how critical it is to the American economy. From farmers who provided the food, to processors who packaged the food, to service workers who put it on the table. We as an industry are too big to fail.

For a long time, I have preached that the restaurant industry needs a good shakeout, rough-up, flipped-on-its-head kind of transformation. Now that we’re down to the studs, I know we can rebuild this thing to look completely different, to be better for everyone. Now is the time to re-evaluate everything so that this industry can work for everyone. We can create an intentional shift because the eyes of the nation are on us.

This pandemic has exposed the inequities that have been in American society since it’s beginning. People are coming out into the streets protesting for systemic change. If the people who have the power really stand as allies, as so many CEOs have claimed, start by looking at the inequities in the hospitality industry. Those that hold the capital and the real estate have to begin to see where policy and practice must be shaken up to bring real equality into the hospitality industry.

Expand Access to Funding – Make an intentional policy to loan to people under-represented in ownership positions.

Before the pandemic, women, Black, and Brown chefs faced an uphill struggle to find investors. Often faced with “prove it again” bias, they are challenged again and again to prove their worth. Access came easier to white men with little to no experience running their own organization. White men have failed and failed again and still manage to find funding.

Examine bias. Abandon cronyism. Reach beyond your sphere, make an effort to encourage entrepreneurship in under-represented clients.

Increase Mentorship – Both the finance and real estate industry can support success by creating mentoring programs for new entrepreneurs.

Real Estate Deals should support business success. Before the pandemic, private equity firms that owned retail property seemed to have little to no interest or understanding in how fragile the food industry was. Now they will be at a loss to find anyone to fill their storefronts.

People who understand retail business and have an interest in communities should be making the real estate deals. Real Estate Trusts and developers should have more realistic expectations about restaurant property so they align with the business constraints of restaurants.

Call on Municipalities to make affordable housing and transportation more accessible for service workers. Cities must stop cowtowing to big corporations that only employee high wage earners who force out low wage earners from housing in the city.

So that’s my top-down fix. In my next blogpost, my bottom-up fix!

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