Business, Our Businesses

A Positive Innovation from the Independent Restaurant Coalition


One of the most positive innovations of the last few months has been the formation of the Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC). The group came together a few weeks into the pandemic to help independent restaurants collaborate and advocate effectively for their needs in Washington. While the headlines and aid packages have historically gone to big businesses and easy-to-identify national chains, the idea behind the IRC was that the needs of independent restaurants, or small restaurants groups like the ZCoB, needed to be called out as the special places that they are. Let’s face reality—this is not an easy situation for anyone. And on the economic front, small businesses have a particularly difficult row to hoe. sources in the industry are speculating that somewhere between 25 and 70 percent of restaurants in the U.S. will not reopen.

The Coalition, which includes some of the nation’s top dining establishments—Rick Bayless from Frontera Grill in Chicago, Tom Colicchio of Craft in NY, Katie Button from Asheville—makes the case: “Independent restaurants directly employ 11 million workers and indirectly employ tens of millions more up and down the food and hospitality supply chain. We are small businesses but have a big impact on the economy with $1 trillion contributed to the economy each year and 4% of GDP.” And yet, restaurants bring an enormous amount of community connection—food for the soul as well as the stomach. They’re important parts of their communities. I feel honored to be part of this special community here! And I know that the other members of the Coalition play comparably positive parts of the cities, towns, and neighborhoods in which they work. As my friend Sara Fetbroth from Oleanna restaurant in Boston writes: “I truly believe hospitality can change the world. If everyone’s goal was to be other-centered and take care of each other, imagine how happy and healthy life would be! Food, the table, and hospitality are the most universal of languages, so what better environment to spread the love?”

If there’s a positive out of all this, I will say that the connections that have come from the work of the IRC have already been really rewarding for me and for others. The organization has, in a matter of months, successfully put the independent perspective into the national conversation. Recently, three IRC members went to the White House to speak personally on behalf of independents (like us) to the President in a televised setting that would typically have included only CEOs of big, publicly traded companies. And Congressman Blumenauer of Oregon has introduced a bill with the acronym RESTAURANTS that puts forward for legislative approval most all of the points that the IRC has been advocating for. Keeping alive in a pandemic is already a challenge for all of us as individuals. Keeping communities healthy as we all come back from it is, I believe, important as well. Helping independent, locally run, restaurants around the country to keep going through this and come out the other side is also important. Check out the IRC website, sign up for the newsletter and sign on to send letters to senators and Congressfolk to share your support! Every little bit makes a difference!


P.S. Since I wrote this piece, all of these people have co-sponsored the bill:
Blumenhauer Cosponsor; Rep. Fitzpatrick, Brian K. [R-PA-1]; Rep. Bonamici, Suzanne [D-OR-1]; Rep. Evans, Dwight [D-PA-3]; Rep. Kuster, Ann M. [D-NH-2]; Rep. Panetta, Jimmy [D-CA-20]; Rep. Pingree, Chellie [D-ME-1]; Rep. Smith, Adam [D-WA-9]; Rep. Welch, Peter [D-VT-At Large]; Rep. Wild, Susan [D-PA-7]; Rep. Axne, Cynthia [D-IA-3]; Rep. Craig, Angie [D-MN-2]; Rep. Khanna, Ro [D-CA-17]; Rep. King, Peter T. [R-NY-2]; Rep. Case, Ed [D-HI-1]; Rep. Neguse, Joe [D-CO-2]