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Update 3/31: This story has been updated to include comments from the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington.
How do we save as many restaurants as possible?
That question guides the newly formed DC Hospitality Coalition, whose website launched over the weekend. The forum lets allied hospitality workers “share information, solve the challenges they collectively face, and keep hope alive.”
Its creators—all owners or employees of small, independent D.C. restaurants—want the site to be a resource hub for laid off bar and restaurant workers and operators who are stretched thin as they navigate the coronavirus crisis. They also plan to unite restaurant industry stakeholders in local and federal advocacy efforts.
Momentum began building at Tail Up Goat on March 15, the day the Adams Morgan restaurant fully closed. Since hospitality industry professionals are problem solvers by trade, co-owner Jill Tyler, service director Andrew Rutledge, and director of operations Joan Kim couldn’t sit idle. They started making phone calls and pulled in the future co-owner of Martha Dear, Tara L. Smith, and Bad Saint co-owner Genevieve Villamora.
“We want to be a support and a lifeline to all of the hospitality workers that were recently let go in the face of this pandemic,” Smith says. Laid off workers are struggling to get unemployment benefits, for example. One of the coalition’s first asks was for D.C. to increase unemployment benefits from $444 a week to $1,000 per week. They abandoned that effort to focus on other priorities once Congress passed the CARES Act, which promises an additional $600 to unemployed workers on top of what they receive at the local level.
Next they plan to look at what health insurance options are available through DC Health Link and Medicaid, figure out how hungry workers can enroll in U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and seek help for people facing rent and mortgage payments they can’t possibly pay. They also want to bring on more pro bono translators who can provide Spanish language support for the region’s vast Central American and Mexican immigrant populations.
And they’re not just looking through a local lens. “There are eight or so disparate coalitions in different cities,” Rutledge says. They include Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, Seattle, New Orleans, New York, and Philadelphia. “We managed to get a hold of the leaders of each of those and coordinated a group that has potential to make some noise,” he adds.
“We’re trying to unite the voices of not just D.C. but across the country since we’re all experiencing the same thing,” Smith says. “What saves the most of us? We don’t have that answer right now … Even though $2 trillion is a lot of money, it’s not going to cut it. More legislation is coming. We want a seat at the table.”
People interested in joining the coalition can go to the website and enter their email addresses. From there, interested individuals will be asked a few questions categorizing them as a worker, manager, owner, or non-industry supporter. “There are private sector people who we’ve built relationships with,” Tyler says. “We’ve been really lucky that people have offered advice from their lobbying perspectives and law perspectives.”
The coalition is crafting form letters specific to each type of member that can be targeted to local legislators or members of Congress. Those who don’t want to enter their email address can follow the coalitions’ efforts on Instagram.
“Another big thing is we’re pushing the facts,” Smith emphasizes. “We are caring about science. Everything we’re reading and disseminating is closely aligned with the fact that we haven’t hit the climax yet. We unfortunately are not doing everything we can as a country to slow [COVID-19] as much as we need.”
The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington is also working to help restaurants share information, access resources, and obtain aid from local and federal governments.
Asked about the newly formed DC Hospitality Coalition, RAMW CEO Kathy Hollinger says: “I think it’s great. It’s very natural that people in times of adversity pull together to elevate a larger message that is needed. We’re all out there advocating for relief, and what relief really looks like and is needed for our independent restaurant community.”
RAMW collects dues from its roughly 1,200 members. Jill Tyler from Tail Up Goat says the DC Hospitality Coalition does not.
“RAMW, particularly over the last couple years, has taken a very different inclusive message to inform people, regardless of membership,” Hollinger says. “We have sent out messaging, tools, resources, information to include as many as possible to help them navigate this very uncertain time. We only want to be a resource to those who are in our industry and we don’t limit ourselves to members of RAMW.”
Tyler addresses why she helped form the coalition even though RAMW already exists. “Our messages are aligned with many local and national groups working towards the same ends—survival of an industry that we love,” she says. “Making noise is important right now. We believe having many aligned groups making noise will affect the biggest change.”
“Campaigns are most successful when combined efforts work in tandem, a joint and collaborative effort of those that do this professionally and those organizing at a grassroots level. I’m thankful for the work RAMW is doing both locally and nationally. Kathy Hollinger and her team are working tirelessly to enact change, find relief for our industry, and share their resources. This is an all-hands-on-deck situation. It will take all of our hands and brains and hard work to find solutions that work.”
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