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Restaurant, bar industry in Puerto Rico helps their own

By on October 6, 2017

SAN JUAN — Even before Hurricane María reached Puerto Rico, members of the island’s restaurant and bar industry were already suffering. The prolonged blackout that came after Hurricane Irma left many businesses without electricity, rendering them unable to operate. They were starting to recover when the second and much more devastating storm was announced.

The first initiative consists of the project Family Meal por Puerto Rico, comprised of a series of meals scheduled for Oct. 11 in various restaurants across the U.S. (iStock)

For many waiters, busboys, bartenders and cooks this means they haven’t had income for nearly a month, no tips, and no way to pay this month’s rent. And given the island’s current crisis, there could be many more lean months to come.

Of the few businesses that could open after María, very few could cover their whole payroll, partially due to the Dry Law enacted during the first nine days of the emergency, as well as a limited schedule due to the curfew. Other businesses suffered physical damages and some were looted.

Faced with this scenario, members of the industry have not stood idly by. From within they have been organizing initiatives to boost one another and restore the vibrant food and beverages scene for the island had become well-known, particularly the capital.

“I believe that the restaurant industry is essential for San Juan’s economy. It connects to tourism and many other industries. I want to see it keep growing, I don’t want to see another diaspora. Puerto Rico is strong and we can take things back to the way they were,” opined Chris Hoppe, owner of La Penúltima bar and Rest. Mai Pen Rai, both in Santurce.

Hoppe was part of a group of industry members who were in the United States for a wedding when María barreled through the island. They were stranded in different cities, unable to return and alarmed over the news coverage depicting the devastation in Puerto Rico.

María Mercedes Grubb, chef at Gallo Negro bar and restaurant, also in Santurce, was overwhelmed by a sense of impotence. She approached Hoppe, who was also stranded in Miami, to see if they could do anything for their own by combining forces and contacts.

Thus was created the nonprofit Serve PR, which is being operated by Mercedes Grubb and Hoppe along with Carrie Bacon, a waitress from Gallo Negro, and Kelly Pirro, chef at Mai Pen Rai.

“ServePR’s goal is, firstly, to raise funds for people who have lost their income the past month and make an effort to help those people who lost their cars, their homes, who don’t have a means for transportation. Second, help restore those restaurants impacted by the storm so they can operate again and maintain Puerto Rico’s economy. Third, help those small distributors who have lost their farms, their livestock, their crops,” Mercedes Grubb  summarized.

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ServePR’s first initiative, which was registered as a 501C3 company in New York, is Family Meal for Puerto Rico, a project comprised of a series of meals scheduled for Oct. 11 at several restaurants across the United States.

According to Mercedes Grubb, already 100 restaurants in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Portland have contacted them to join the event. They are also working with other restaurant groups that they opted not to reveal because these are not firmly committed yet.

“The restaurant industry in Puerto Rico has friends and family oall over the country and all over the world who have visited us or know about what we are doing and they are anxious to help,” Hoppe added.

Mercedes Grubb hopes that this will become a long-term project, not just to assess the present crisis but also to help other restaurants and members of the industry in future.

Other initiatives within the industry:

–Renowned Spanish chef José Andrés is in Puerto Rico with his nonprofit World Central Kitchen, supplying daily meals to hospitals, retirement homes, rural communities and police and federal officials. He has two kitchens running in San Juan and he is trying to open a third one in El Yunque National Forest, one of his team members revealed.

–The Serrallés distillery has launched cocktail events with Don Q rum in different bars in the U.S. and Europe to raise funds that will be allocated to Activados por Puerto Rico–first lady Beatriz Rosselló’s organization–, the Puerto Rico Food Bank and ConPRmetidos, a branch of the Foundation for Puerto Rico. Donations collected during those events will be matched by Serrallés. Most recently, restauranteur Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG), announced that beginning on October 6th and during the whole month he will be hosting DonQ events at his 16 restaurants in New York, with a special cocktail menu. Proceeds will be matched by Serrallés and donated.

–In New York City, bar industry members have collection centers at numerous venues, including Suffolk Arms, Social Sweetwater, Walter’s, Pig Beach and Boilermaker.

–Oskar Blues Brewery, along with Frontier Airline and the CAN’d Aid Foundation, sent a plane with 91,200 cans of drinking water to Puerto Rico. The brewery announced in its social media accounts that it has begun to fill more cans with water.

-The blog Craft Beer Generation launched a GoFundMe campaign to help “the 10 local breweries that were operating when Hurricane María hit the island. This money seeks to soften a little the economic blow received after the storm. The funds will be used to cover damages to breweries, losses in products and sales, the purchase of ingredients, generators and more,” they explained in a post.

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