BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — As the American economy suffers under COVID-19, so too does the foodservice industry, with many restaurants forced to shut down or limit service.
Frank Stitt and his wife, Pardis, were among the first Birmingham restaurateurs to shut down their restaurants — Highlands Bar and Grill, Bottega and Chez Fon Fon — due to the outbreak.
And now, the James Beard Award winner’s focus has shifted from nightly service to helping his employees and his industry colleagues thrive in uncertain times.
“It is a very stressful time and it is a very worrisome time and I’m concerned and of course Pardis is concerned about our restaurant community,” Stitt said.
Nationwide, the restaurant industry’s financial footprint is enormous, producing $800 billion in annual revenue, 90% of which is paid to employees, suppliers, or rent. That accounts for 4% of the nation’s GDP.
That’s why just last week, Stitt and other local restaurant owners formed the Independent Restaurant Coalition with a goal of getting the attention of lawmakers drafting the largest economic stimulus bill in U.S. history, including Alabama Sen. Doug Jones.
“Birmingham is a culinary capital of the country these days thanks to Frank Stitt and Chris Hastings and all the great chefs that we’ve got there,” Jones said. “They’re the ones that took the first hits on this coronavirus.”
Stitt believes that a unified front in Washington is what helped secure $377 billion dollars in the economic aid bill the Senate passed Wednesday to help restaurants and small businesses get loans to stay afloat.
“It’s a way of getting money into the hands of the workers that are part of this restaurant family,” he said.
In the meantime, Stitt is feeding his restaurant family out of the Highlands kitchen, providing packaged meals made with the same locally sourced products he’s served to customers for years.
“Once we get through this, we’ll have a stronger sense of values and a sense of work ethic and that we will have a sense of gratitude for our community coming together and standing by us,” he said.
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