The Pandemic May Close Our Restaurants. We’re Donating to Anti-Racist Groups Anyway.

The Pandemic May Close Our Restaurants. We’re Donating to Anti-Racist Groups Anyway.

In the last week, protests have erupted across the country in response to the murder of George Floyd, and food businesses everywhere have spoken out in solidarity. Jeremiah Stone and Fabián von Hauske, the chefs and owners of Wildair, Contra, and wine shop Peoples Wine in New York City, were two of those who took a stand. Last Friday, they posted one image with no comment: an announcement that weekend sales would go toward the Minnesota Freedom Fund, which helps those who’ve been arrested post bail, and Reclaim the Block, a Minneapolis-based organization focused on decreasing funding towards police and increasing community-based safety measures. They were one of the first restaurant owners I saw do this; since then, many more have pledged donations. These efforts feel especially poignant given how much the industry has been devastated by COVID-19. I imagined that this small act was a big thing for Stone and von Hauske’s little restaurant group. So, yesterday, I hopped on the phone with Stone to talk about what led him to take action and how the pandemic made him realize that now was the time. –Elyse Inamine

The future of restaurants, the future of our restaurants, the economy: It all feels so messed up. Right now, we’re not making a profit, and I won’t pretend that we are. Between our two restaurants, we’re doing one-twentieth of our usual business. But once I heard about the murder of George Floyd, I was just like, things are getting even worse.

I saw it on social media, this image of someone with their knee on someone’s neck. Within a few seconds of seeing it, you could feel the oppression, even if you didn’t read the story. I was pretty shocked, but unfortunately I knew this kind of police behavior was so common—so common that an incident like this was recorded and being shown on every news outlet. Racial injustice and police brutality are as old as time, but in my lifetime, they still feel like issues that are so overwhelming and you don’t know where to start to be involved. As I watched at home, I felt restless. With social media, it’s all talk and no action. And I just felt defeated.

I’m a cook. It’s what I’ve been doing for the last 16 years, and it’s all I know. I didn’t even go to college. I don’t feel like I’m the person to affect policy change or something like that. But I know I can make food. I know we can control the money we make from that food and have it go to people who need it. So I started to think about what we can do as a small business that’s obviously struggling. We don’t have a lot that we can offer. We’re working everyday; we’re trying to be responsible for our staff and those they’re supporting. So I thought, maybe we could give a little bit of what we’re making in sales to causes that are supporting the protesters in Minneapolis. We were already making so little, and the margins were so tight, that it seemed like not the smartest thing to do. On the other hand, everything feels so uncertain anyway, so why not just do it?

So last week, I called Fabián and Daryl [Nuhn], our partner at Peoples, and asked them, “What do you think about donating the money that we make from the weekend to the Minnesota Freedom Fund and Reclaim the Block?” Both of them had George Floyd on their mind. They were like, yes, yes, yes.


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