The Coalition Fighting to Save Independent Restaurants

The Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC) is fighting to help independent bars and restaurants across the United States stay open.

In March 2020, the IRC formed to respond to the needs of these small food businesses. “We wanted to do something outside of what the [National Restaurant Association (NRA)] was doing because the NRA was going to really focus more on chains,” chef and food advocate Tom Colicchio tells Food Tank.

The IRC pushed for creation of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), designed to provide grants to small bars and restaurants. The funding helped businesses pay better wages, provide benefits, and keep costs down for customers. “For those that actually got the money, it was great,” Colicchio says.

While 100,000 received grants through the RRF, roughly two-thirds of restaurants who applied—nearly 200,000 businesses—did not. According to a survey from the IRC, 80 percent of those that did not receive support are at risk of closing businesses.

“Restaurants are really struggling. We hear every day from restaurants, restaurateurs, and chefs that have maxed out credit cards. They move, they’ve sold their homes, they move into apartments and try to keep the place afloat,” Colicchio tells Food Tank. “And they just need help.”

In an effort to provide relief for businesses that did not receive this initial funding, the IRC is calling on Congress to replenish the RRF. Fortunately, they are seeing progress, with the House recently passing the Bill.

And while the RRF is the Coalition’s main focus for now, Colicchio says they plan to take on new projects in the future. To do this, “we need membership.”

Coming out the pandemic, Colicchio also believes that restaurant culture is shifting. In response to the #MeToo movement and increasing demands for safer work environments, he is hopeful that workplace harassment is on the decline. “I think now, when you see something that’s not right, you going to have to immediately jump in and deal with it,” Colicchio says. “I think that’s what’s really changing.”

But, he says, more subtle forms of discrimination are in need of greater attention. “We really have to start taking a look at how gets promoted, how they get promoted, who gets hired, how they get hired,” Colicchio tells Food Tank. “And I think for a long time, people of color and women didn’t want to be in the industry because they didn’t feel that they were being welcomed.”

Listen to the full conversation with Tom Colicchio on “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg” to hear more about the changing culture of the hospitality industry, the future of independent restaurants, and why the issue of food waste is “low hanging fruit.”

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Photo courtesy of Kayleigh Harrington, Unsplash

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