Fundraisers to Support Struggling Restaurant Workers and Bartenders

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Restaurants and bars across the St. Louis area are currently electing to voluntarily close their dine-in spaces in an effort to promote social distancing to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Those hospitality professionals should be commended for these choices, especially given the devastating financial impact that those decisions will have on their livelihoods. They are sacrificing their incomes and security in the service of public health — and so the least we can do is show them support and rally around them in return.

As of this writing, there are two ways you can donate money to local chefs, restaurants and bartenders who are doing the responsible thing and temporarily eliminating dine-in service.

The first fundraiser was launched locally by Bob Brazell, the chef-owner of Byrd & Barrel and co-owner of Tamm Avenue Bar (which houses sandwich shop Nomad) and the Tenderloin Room. Yesterday, as news broke that Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker was mandating that all restaurants and bars in the state close for at least two weeks, Brazell was posting a GoFundMe campaign to benefit area hospitality professionals.

"I was just trying to be proactive and do my part," Brazell told the RFT in a message today. "Every little bit helps."

The crowdfunding campaign is simple, Brazell says: If you work in the industry, simply email him at [email protected] and share your contact information or your employer's contact information. Once the GoFundMe campaign is closed out, all of the funds raised will be distributed evenly to all verified industry employees who have been laid off.

"I am doing everything I can to make sure my employees are taken care of as well, but with massive bills and no income, this is going to be a difficult fight," Brazell said. "This is gonna be hard to deal with. I wish everyone the best."

Brazell says his hope is to do everything in his power to help his friends and neighbors in the industry survive during this time of uncertainty and loss of business.

He added that he's setting up meetings with leaders in the respective neighborhoods where his businesses are based — Byrd & Barrel is near the Cherokee Business District, Tamm is in Dogtown and the Tenderloin Room is located in the Central West End — to see what can be done for restaurants in these areas.

He knows firsthand what everyone stands to lose — including the neighboring businesses in Dogtown, several of which have decided not to open for service tomorrow for St. Patrick's Day, one of the biggest days of business in that neighborhood every year.

Brazell made the decision to close Tamm for St. Pat's ahead of the now-increasing surge of temporarily closures and announcements of limited business hours — he says he just couldn't put his employees and the neighborhood at that kind of risk. "I really hope people know that and come back to us when we're open," Brazell adds.

If his restaurants end up with food that is not selling, it will be offered up for free, Brazell adds.

Considering the potential loss of revenue in his restaurants — to say nothing of their bar programs, which is where many restaurants make a significant source of their revenue — Brazell says his biggest concern right now is the safety and livelihoods of his employees.

"Delivery and pick up is one thing, but we will all be chasing the same almost nonexistent dollar," Brazell said. "It's going to get worse before it gets better. A lot of my staff have kids that are now at home. They live paycheck to paycheck. I'll do everything in my power to keep them all afloat. I just don't know how long that can be for."

Another way to support our local bartenders was launched over the weekend by the United States Bartenders' Guild. The fundraiser is seeking to accomplish two goals: ensure that bartenders across the U.S. who are out of work due to COVID-19 are supplied with emergency relief funds from the guild, as well as to raise money toward that goal for beverage-industry members.

By donating to the guild's Bartender Emergency Assistance Program, you will helping to support a network of bartenders and their families across the U.S., including right here in St. Louis.

Most importantly, bartenders need not be members of the guild to apply for relief, although the guild has emphasized that it's currently receiving a high volume of applications that has caused problems and delays for some applicants. If you experience that issue, the guild encourages you to continue trying to apply in the coming hours and days.

Looking for other ways to help support our local hospitality pros in St. Louis? We have a few other ideas, shared in a separate story here.

Editor's Note: What did we miss? Let us know in the comments section; this is a developing story that will be updated as new fundraisers and ways to support our local restaurant and bar scene are announced.

Follow Liz Miller on Twitter at @lizzaymillah. We are always hungry for tips and feedback. Email the author at [email protected]
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