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Mar 30, 2020

Dinner Tonight Atlanta

March 30, 2020


Susan Cooper:

Hello, and welcome to Dinner Tonight Atlanta. I'm your host, Susan Cooper. And I haven't been with you in a few days. It's supposed to be a daily podcast. But I put the podcast on hold during this COVID-19 pandemic, because I couldn't keep up with which restaurants are still open, which restaurants are doing to-go orders or pickup orders. And I just needed to take a moment to assess the situation and see how to move forward. We will come back to a daily podcast again, I promise. But for now, we're gonna change up the format a little bit. I'm going to be talking to a few different foodies around Atlanta, and some thought leaders in the Atlanta restaurant community and figure out how we can all support our Atlanta restaurants and food service workers. So today, I have with me co-hosting, Mickey Desai. And he is my co host on the other podcasts that we do together called Inclusion Catalyst. Mickey want to say hello?


Mickey Desai  1:07 

Hello, everybody.


Susan Cooper  1:08 

With us we have a guest named Bryan Schroeder. And he is the Executive Director of the Giving Kitchen. Hey, Bryan.


Bryan Schroeder  1:16 

Hey guys.


Susan Cooper  1:17 

And it's kind of funny. Bryan actually lives a couple blocks away from me. But here we are social distancing. And so we're talking via Zoom.


Bryan Schroeder  1:24 

The perfect spring day to be hanging out and chatting in the backyard. So this is extra sad.


Mickey Desai  1:30 

Yeah, yeah. It's all all kind of surreal. The weather is beautiful, and yet we look at the news and it's just not looking good at all.


Susan Cooper  1:36 

Yes. So I've mentioned the Giving Kitchen before on Dinner Tonight Atlanta and all the great work they do. They've been helping food service workers for a long time. Bryan, do you want to just sort of give a brief overview of what you guys do if people don't know about you? And specifically, what you guys are doing during this crisis?


Bryan Schroeder  1:58 

So Giving Kitchen provides emergency assistance to food service workers. We do that in two distinct ways. We have a financial assistance program for people who are sick or injured, have had a death in the family or housing crisis because of a flood or a fire. We also have a program we call Disability Network. And it's essentially, you know, food service workers live in a world of their own. This is our opportunity to connect food service workers who are in crisis, but maybe they don't qualify for our financial assistance to resources in their community like housing, food, finance, social services, Family Services. And so over the last six years, we've provided about $3.3 million in financial aid. And for connecting people to community resources, like a hard referral. All together, we've helped about 4000 food service workers in crisis, with most of that work happening over the last two years. With COVID-19 specifically, first of all, I would say 99% of food service workers aren't employed. But essentially if you're unemployed and, AND, AND you have an illness and injury or death in the family, or housing crisis because of flood or fire, we encourage you to apply for our financial assistance program. In the last 10 days, we've provided about $45,000 in financial assistance, including eight or nine people who are either COVID positive or soon to be confirmed COVID positive. Or a few restaurant workers, one just had a transplant and the doctor said you have to under no circumstances do you need to see anyone else in the outside world. And one other person just had a long operation and they were sent home under doctor's quarantine. But on top of that, it was about 25 other people ranging from lymphoma diagnosis, someone who's a survivor of a domestic assault, car crashes to two different chefs who had to bury their brother. Other two different chefs that their mother passed away. One chef, his dad passed away. And now he's caring for his elderly mom. Two women who had hysterectomies. I mean, this is in the way I've described it. I mean, everybody's in trouble right now, in food service. We're helping the people who are really, really in trouble. And you know, who have a crisis that goes beyond just being unemployed. But for the unemployed food service worker, the best way we're able to provide help is what we talked about earlier, the stability network. So this is, you know, we have a specific resource right now. It's We're updating that website daily with lots of different information about how to protect yourself, how to file for unemployment, how to get, assistance with housing finance, stuff for your families. And over 25,000 people have visited that website since we launched it about 14 days ago.


Susan Cooper  4:59 

Wow. Yeah, I've heard you, there's things that you can't do. If you tried to help every food service worker in the state, there's no way that Given Kitchen alone could shoulder that burden.


Bryan Schroeder  5:18 

Yeah, there was, I mean, last week, there was a real emptiness for us, because, you know, there's all these people who are finding out they're laid off. They're all these people who are really desperate for help. And our message was, listen, we can only do what we can do. There's people who - if we tried to be unemployment for 400,000 people, we would fail so spectacularly that we would also fail the people who are counting on us. And you know, there's about a seven day lag between you know, our messaging and communicating that with the community and when all the people who've gotten through this point for our financial award, and now all the checks are in the mail. I tell you, it felt really good to put those checks in the mail today because we are felt a sense of just unbelievable heartache and pain and even guilt that we couldn't do more. But now that we're starting to see the results 32 people, $45,000. And that's not I mean, we're not done. This is just the beginning, this is going to be something we update every single week, the amount of funds that we've distributed and the number of people who we've helped. And I know in my heart of hearts that if we had tried to do anything but be the Giving Kitchen, and and do anything, but stick to our mission, that we would have failed. We would have completely failed and the people who were getting support today would not have gotten any support at all.


Mickey Desai  6:37 

If I might ask how do you do your fundraising.


Bryan Schroeder  6:40 

So we've overnight have completely changed our fundraising model. We were an organization that serve food service workers that I would say 75% of our funding came from someone or a company or an individual who's directly involved in food service. Some of the big broad line distributors doing lots of restaurant based programming, lots of stuff with breweries and distilleries. And overnight, we've become an organization that is supported by the community. I mean, the game is on for Giving Kitchen in two ways. One is to do our work. At this elevated level, we've got 20 times the amount of people over year asking for help. Four times the amount of people who we think will qualify for financial assistance. And it's time for us to deliver and tell our story. And then after that, you know, we have to really begin, we have to become a donor supported organization. And it's not that we took it for granted. It's just not who we were. Our organization started at a fundraiser, we were a fundraiser for a young man named Ryan Hidinger who had cancer. And, you know, they raised so much money that his family said, Well, we want to do something more than just collect this money on Ryan's behalf. Or Ryan said, I want to do more than just collect this money and that's how Giving Kitchen was born. We were born at a party. Were born with industry people all around us. We were born supported by restaurants and beer companies and distilleries and you know, this is the big test. It's execute at the highest level we've ever been asked to execute on. Tell our story and in an incredibly clear and effective way. And then to the people who are supporting us and the people who will support us, make sure they feel thanked and welcomed. They understand that, you know, the the services we provide are vital to our community. I think if we do that, it's going to be fine. And you know what? The restaurants are going to come back online in the next, you know, full fully back on within the next six months, in the next 12 months, the next 18 months. And what we're going to be sitting with is a complete organization that is effective at fundraising with individuals and effective at fundraising with food service partners,


Susan Cooper  8:41 

As just sort of someone who is a foodie, how can people support restaurants directly, you know, you're somebody who loves to go out to restaurants, who loves great food. In addition to having people donate to Giving Kitchen, obviously what do you think people should be doing to support Atlanta restaurant workers?


Bryan Schroeder  9:05 

Yeah, so I've had a lot of people call and said, Hey, Please be honest. Where should my money go? And really, it's up to you. And it's honestly if you can, if you can support multiple agencies, there's a lot of work happening in our community right now. If you want to support restaurant workers who are either underemployed or unemployed, immediately, like cash in our pockets today, find a GoFundMe at a restaurant you trust that is explicit about how those funds will be distributed. And if you find one and it's a restaurant that you love, and and shares your values and you love their, you have a bond gives that GoFundMe. If you are worried about where the restaurant worker who was laid off in the past two weeks where they're going to get a meal, you should support the Atlanta Community Food Bank, or the United Way. If you are concerned about a food service worker who has cancer, a food service worker who has a broken leg, food service worker who just lost a family member or food service worker who, whose house or apartment burned down, not just today, not just tomorrow, but over the next few weeks, next few months and for the foreseeable future, that's the role Giving Kitchen is going to play and helping to take care of those, those people. So, you know, I know that's a long complicated answer, but I think part of it too, is, is every person who listens to this podcast: You're now deputized to be part of Giving Kitchen. You know, look after the food service workers who are your friends and family. Venmo them. Don't be afraid to Venmo someone directly, they're not going to ask you for it. But if you know someone who is laid off or someone who's a bartender, a waitress, there is no shame in the game right now in terms of putting some extra walking cash in their pocket because that's what's going to help them pay rent or help them put groceries on the table. And you know, also take care of yourselves. This is incredibly stressful time. This is the time when, you know, we feel like you know what's even tomorrow gonna be like? What's next week gonna be like? ow I was actually on a podcast earlier today with John T. Edge of the Southern Foodways Alliance. And he was like, Well, how are you making it through this? And I was like, you know, I keep thinking about this summer. I'm gonna have, it's gonna be 103 degrees outside. I'm gonna have my feet in the sand on the Flint River in Middle Georgia and I'm gonna eat the biggest fattest, juiciest tree ripened peach. And I have been thinking about that peach almost every day. And when it comes, I'll just cry.


Susan Cooper  11:30 

So like, assuming that that that peach is ripe in July, do you think that you're gonna have to be by yourself eating that peach?


Bryan Schroeder  11:39 

I hope not. I mean, I think you know, I mean, anyone who says the words, I'm not a health policy expert, but should really just shut up. But you know, I'm not you. I'm not a health policy epert but, you know, it's just kind of....We're gonna learn a lot about ourselves. In the next few weeks. We're gonna learn a lot about this virus the next few weeks. And you know, it may just be me alone in the sand on the Flint River. But I hope it's not. And I hope I actually I get close to friends and we're not six feet apart, but we've all been tested, we all understand who's had it, who hasn't and what the risks are.


Mickey Desai  12:18 

Hmm. Well the Flint River is a nice place to sit back and just take it easy for a while, I think you're gonna appreciate that. And I hope you do have some good company when that happens. But I wanted to underline again, that what we're looking at is not just displaced workers, right? What we're looking at is something way more serious about the fabric of, of who is we as a city tend to be. You know, Atlanta is very much a food oriented town. The number of restaurants we have is, I think, larger per capita than most other metropolitan areas. And we're talking about supporting the folks who make those dining experiences possible. And that's just the start of it. Would you say that that's not right, Brian?


Bryan Schroeder  12:57 

I that's correct. And, you know, I think that, you know, some people have had to make some really tough choices. And what I think a lot of people don't realize is how much is happening behind the scenes, both from how we're going to take care of our staff perspective, to how can we work together with local public policy leaders and local elected officials to loosen restrictions and to delay tax payments in which people are throwing the bucket this just really to keep restaurants solvent. And you know, some have had to make the really hard choice to close down and layoff their employees because they want to make sure their employees can get unemployment. And, and then there's also some that have made a choice to lay off most of their employees and they're going to continue to try really just for the sake of of their employees to do take out and carry out. You know, I've talked to a lot of people have failed. A lot of phone calls from restaurant owners and leadership in the past couple weeks and one of the things that is kind of an epiphany was restaurants this point aren't restaurants anymore. They're nonprofits. And everything about how you engage people who are dining and tipping needs to change. Those are your donors. They're not your customers. And because you know, a lot of people are buying a pizza and leaving a $50 tip. They're buying a meal for their family, they're leaving $1,000 tip. And if that ever happened, you know, during normal times, you would never call that person and say thank you. You would never write them a thank you note. You would never follow up the way you would if you are a nonprofit who gets a gift. And I've really put a bug in a lot of the people who I consider peers. Treat every person who dines at your restaurant like a donor. Call them and tell them thank you. Send them a text message. Send them an email, because what they're doing by eating out and tipping big, they're helping you pay your employees. They're helping people to pay the rent. They're helping people be able to eat and it's a total paradigm shift. We're in the upside down world right now in food service. And I really hope that within the next few weeks or months, we're able to at least in some fashion flip back to normalcy or a version of normalcy we're going to have to get comfortable with, for probably, you know, a year 18 months.


Susan Cooper  15:17 

Yeah, I agree as a restaurant as a customer experience. People used to go to restaurants for the experience of it, not just the food but just the act of dining in a restaurant and being social. And now with it all being takeout 100%, people are tired of cooking at home. But they're consciously going out and the restaurant they choose is because they want that restaurant to survive. It's not just because I'm craving a pizza today. It's I am making a conscious effort to put my money in these people to support this particular restaurant. And so I agree with you that the relationship has to completely change, or the restaurant is not going to survive.


Bryan Schroeder  16:04 

And I think the ones who, and the ones who pivot are going to be the ones who are the most successful. They are gonna be the ones who are going to get customers back. And, you know, I think that you know, what we're learning now. And the muscle we're building now in food service, the restaurants that are that are open, or the restaurants that are closed, but they're paying close attention. We're learning. There's a lot that we're learning about right now, that's going to be applicable over the next probably, unfortunately, the next year.


And so I think there's a lot that we're learning now that it's going to really be a part of our short term future in food service. And who knows? What I do know is that it's a unprecedented level of generosity, camaraderie, support. You know, I don't know what's happening in other cities. One of the things I've always said about Giving Kitchen is that a nonprofit doesn't change a city. But I do think the city changed when it created Giving Kitchen. I genuinely believe that when the city of Atlanta and the food industry in Atlanta came together to make the organization that is the Giving Kitchen today that it changed us. And I think that the food scene today is better prepared for COVID-19 than before they created Giving Kitchen because I think we're running the same channels and the same leadership. And the inspiration that that comes from helping to create something like Giving Kitchen is really paying off for the food service today. And that's not any credit to me or the Giving Kitchen team. It really is just an example of when you come together once for a cause greater for than yourself, you realize it's actually pretty easy to come together for a cause that's great greater than yourself when you have something like this global pandemic that we're dealing with.


Mickey Desai  17:56 

Well, I think at the end of this we'll be able to turn around and say this is what makes us great. I agree.


Susan Cooper  18:03 

I hope so. Well, on that note, I think that's a good place to sort of wrap up this conversation on a positive note. And we might do it again here in a couple weeks, see how things shake out.


Bryan Schroeder  18:15 

Happy to do another update, we will have numbers to share every week. That be around Thursday, Friday.


Susan Cooper  18:22 

Okay, for anyone who's listening who wants to make a donation to Giving Kitchen, go to, there's a pop up right there about their COVID response. And I know that I've been sharing on social media on Facebook and Instagram, there's a few resources of people who are collecting Venmo addresses for various servers and bartenders, sharing information on how to get in touch with your favorite your favorite restaurant workers that you can search to donate to them directly. So if you'll go to Facebook, and look up Dinner Tonight Atlanta, you can find that and I will also put links to some of those resources. is in the show notes for today's episode.


Mickey Desai  19:02 

Thanks, Brian. This has been good. I've learned a lot today.


Bryan Schroeder  19:04 

Yeah, thank you guys. I appreciate the opportunity to kind of share our story and I'm happy to kind of talk about what Giving Kitchen is up to you anytime.


Susan Cooper  19:11 

Thanks. Talk to you soon. Thank you. Bye.


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