How These NYC Leaders Are Stepping Up And Giving Back

Since March, almost every industry has been negatively impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19, causing New York City to shut down—save for a few essential businesses—and stay at home, with the goal of slowing the curve of the spread of the virus. Due to the shutdown, frontline workers were overloaded, and many left without proper protective equipment (PPE), while the hospitality industry took a huge hit, causing thousands upon thousands of New York City residents to be left without jobs. However, through this tough time, much of the community joined together and gave back to keep the city alive, aiding those who needed it most during this time. And this movement was largely impacted by a few select philanthropists, who went above and beyond to ensure that our city’s frontline workers and businesses had support.

Below, we chat with Chef Daniel Boulud and Stratis Morfogen, two leaders who have given back to their city during this time.

Daniel Boulud, Restaurateur & 2 Michelin-starred chef, Founder of The Dinex Group

Daniel Food1st Launch Day 3Photo Credit: The Dinex Group

HL: Throughout this unsettling time in our country, and particularly at your home base in NYC, you’ve been a leading voice in the hospitality industry. Tell us what you and your team have done to give back to your community and industry during this time?

DB: As soon as we made the decision to close the restaurants, we immediately focused on supporting our team. We created a foundation, Hand in Hand, where 100-percent of the donations go to our employees who are no longer able to work and experiencing extraordinary hardship.

I also partnered with Marc Holiday, the CEO of SL Green, who established the Food1st Foundation. Food1st has helped restaurants keep their kitchens open to feed New Yorkers in need, such as first-responders, hospitals, shelters and food banks. The foundation has allowed my team to reopen Restaurant DANIEL’s catering kitchen and our commissary kitchen downtown where we prepare thousands of meals every day. To date, our team has prepared more than 30,000 meals, and as a whole, Food1st Foundation has served over 100,000 meals to New Yorkers in need. I am really thankful for Marc Holiday’s initiative to help us support the community by gifting all of the meals we prepare. I look forward to working with him and the SL Green team on our new project at One Vanderbilt.

I also continue to work closely with the Ment’or BKB Foundation, an organization that raises money to support the young chefs and professionals in the hospitality industry. While we continue to do that, we are now raising money for the Ment’or Giving Fund. Proceeds from the Giving Fund are distributed to either charities that support the culinary workforce or are directly given to restaurant businesses for employees in financial need during this challenging time.

Most recently, we have launched Daniel Boulud Kitchen, our new curbside pickup and delivery concept prepared in Restaurant DANIEL. A portion of all sales are going directly to benefit our staff foundation, Hand in Hand, and this project has allowed us to rehire several team members.

HL: What has been the most challenging aspect of this?

DB: The most challenging aspect is that we had to furlough 95-percent of our staff and close down 14 restaurants overnight. During the past few months, many hospitality alliance organizations have been created to advocate for the much-needed government support for small businesses, especially amongst the restaurant community.

HL: The most rewarding?

DB: The most rewarding part has been being able to prepare those thousands and thousands of meals for those in need. As the Co-President of Citymeals on Wheels, I focus on continuing to support the program that delivers meals to elderly New Yorkers, many of whom are unable to leave their homes during this difficult time. What I admire about Citymeals on Wheels is their ability to deliver more than 20,000 meals a day to the diverse communities throughout all five boroughs – The Bronx, Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn and Manhattan/Harlem.

HL: What have you learned through this time?

DB: I have learned how fragile our economy and community truly are. We have experienced fear for the unknown, and have learned how important it is to fight for your business so everyone can get their jobs back. This is the first time in my career that I have been disconnected from my entire team and many of them have struggled. As important as the business is, we have learned it is the people and the community who come first.

HL: What can others do to help you to give back to the NYC hospitality industry?

DB: What people can do right now is continue to support restaurants, charities and foundations, both locally and nationwide. New coalitions have been formed because of the pandemic to protect staff, suppliers, farmers, purveyors and many other small restaurant businesses. If people continue to support these new organizations, the hospitality business will continue to improve and have a stronger voice.

Stratis Morfogen, Director of Operations of Brooklyn Chop House

LSD at BCH - Photo Credit @China.Latina.EatzPhoto Credit: @China.Latina.Eatz

HL: Since the beginning of this unsettling time, you and Brooklyn Chop House stepped up as one of the leaders in the industry to give back to frontline workers. How did you decide on this initiative and what logistics did you have to work out to make it happen?

SM: We were committed to supporting our frontline heroes, starting with our neighbors working at New York-Presbyterian. They started sending heartfelt thank you’s, then the mainstream media picked up on it and within 1-2 days, our supply partners and vendors donated thousands of pounds of food and drinks from VOSS Water, Four Five Roasters Coffee, J. Kings, King Solomon Meats, Juniors Cheesecake, Forever Young Wines and more, which allowed us to add 15 more hospitals and three police precincts to over 8,000 donated meals.

HL: What has been the response since launching this initiative?

SM: Just the posts of “thanks” mean the world to our staff and ownership team. It’s also made us feel good in these challenging times.

HL: What have you learned as a hospitality industry leader during this challenging time? 

SM: That the mom and pop shops stood up and supported. They were the last to close, last to lay off, and the first to donate. Very few received Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) government assistance. However, the old guard who we considered our leaders have been a huge disappointment by being the first to close, first to lay off with no donations to our frontline heroes—yet remain first in one category: the first to ask for PPP assistance with $1 billion and $2 billion public market capital companies among them.

HL: What are you looking toward in the future for the rest of 2020?

SM: I’m looking forward to the release of my first book Damn Good Dumplings this November and our restaurant’s dumplings will be in Walmart stores across the country by the beginning of next year.