How to Help the Detroit Food Industry Now — and After — The Pandemic
S.social distancing while essential for The fight against the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated Michigan’s restaurant scene. By the end of March, the state-owned hospitality industry had lost estimated sales of $ 491 million and more than 72,000 jobs, according to the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association. And while all of the restaurants, bars, and cafes have suffered, local food activist Devita Davison is particularly concerned about the small family businesses she sees as the cornerstone of Detroit’s unique culinary identity. “Not everyone will come out of it,” she says. Here Davison, the executive director of FoodLab Detroit, urges us all to join a movement in support of Detroit’s most vulnerable culinary entrepreneurs.
Devita Davison // Photo by Val Waller
Hour Detroit: What exactly is happening in Detroit’s food industry?
Devita Davison: The restaurant industry across the country is fighting for its professional life. Nearly 85% of half a million restaurant employees lost their jobs overnight. Can you imagine that? And that’s just the state of Michigan.
Describe the impact of this crisis on the industry.
Millions of restaurant workers have always worked in an industry where they were only a paycheck away from financial disaster. Restaurant workers are our most vulnerable and, in many cases, worst paid workers. Fast food workers or waiters or cooks or dishwashers – they’re not really skilled workers, are they? You are not highly skilled. You are not well trained. You are not well trained. But guess who’s on the front lines now, making sure the shelves are full when we go to the grocery stores? Or risk their lives to make sure workers deliver groceries to your door?
What has to change?
Our economic policies in this country continue to prioritize those at the top rather than prioritizing the prosperity of the community. But now the emergency is here. This is a moment when the choice is clear. We can either use this crisis as an opportunity to create a more democratic economy where we expand property and wealth, support businesses based on their workers and communities, and try to jointly build community owned businesses like a cooperative or we can continue as usual when we get out of this crisis. The choice is ours.
What can the general public do now?
I want people to really know where their money is going when they donate to large organizations because the goal should be to get money into the hands of these restaurant workers right away while we seek help from the federal, state, or state government wait the city. The organization I will continue to give is Giving Kitchen, which exists for emergency aid for restaurant workers. The James Beard Foundation has also established a restaurateurs grant fund. I specifically look at organizations that have been doing this work and have provided assistance to restaurant workers for years, and will continue to do so for years to come.
Second, consumers need to think. Think of the restaurant you went to to celebrate your graduation, anniversary, or where you got engaged. Where were those moments of joy in your life and which restaurants contributed to them? Call or visit their website to learn how you can donate to these restaurants. Most places have GoFundMe accounts, and much of that money goes straight to their employees.
What about the restaurants that don’t have GoFundMe accounts or active websites?
Those who suffer and who survive this crisis will fall unevenly in race and class. I’m not saying this as hyperbolic – I’m saying it because it’s the truth. Some restaurants have the option to quickly hand their restaurants over to roadside or delivery services. They have built brand loyalty and already have a customer base to draw from. Some of them even have databases because they accept reservations so that they can reach their customers directly via email and phone call. But what about the mom-and-pops who got none of it? Not everyone will come out of it. Gastronomy won’t look the same.
How can we help these mom-and-pops?
The call to action could be to provide free family-owned restaurants. As a lawyer, can you help companies find the right documentation they need to be unemployed? If you’re a graphic designer, marketer, public relations worker, or a writer, they may need your help creating a website. Selling gift certificates, t-shirts, sweatshirts, and coffee mugs isn’t going to save us – it’s a band-aid. But it does what it can to stop the bleeding for the time being.
Don’t take a break, pivot
Food restaurateurs in Detroit are reinventing their models for taking take-away and delivery orders
In the early stages of the crisis, Sister Pie owner Lisa Ludwinski and her staff drew stars on the sidewalk 7 feet apart for customers to stand on while they waited for their orders. Since this photo was taken in March, the bakery has shifted focus to taking grocery orders for its West Village neighbors. Sister Pie, 8066 Kercheval Ave., Detroit; 313-447-5550; Sisterpie.com
With social distancing mandates coming into effect, Guerilla Food’s delivery service has tripled its orders. Customers are asked to leave a cooler on the door so that they can be dropped off contactlessly. Guerilla Food, 2746 Vermont St., Detroit; guerrillafooddetroit.com
Monica Isaac, owner of Cairo Coffee, delivers a bag of roasted coffee to a customer in the West Village. Cairo currently accepts online orders for delivery and offers roadside pickup for coffee, tea, pastries and catering for small events. Cairo Coffee at Savvy Chic, 2712 Riopelle St., Detroit; 313-833-8769