| [email protected]
A Philadelphia celebrity chef is teaming up with two Pennsylvania organizations to launch a new initiative to help women-owned restaurants across the commonwealth that have been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Private chef and restaurant consultant Barbie Marshall, a standout of the sustainable food scene who has also appeared on the popular cooking show Hell’s Kitchen, joined the Pennsylvania Conference for Women and the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association in announcing a new initiative to provide $175,000 total in grant funding to more than 70 women-owned restaurants in Pennsylvania.
Read more:Gov. Tom Wolf signs order increasing indoor dining capacity to 50%
Restaurants will be selected for individual $2,500 grants via an application process through the PRLA, with the winners scheduled to be announced in October.
“I’m honored to be a part of this initiative, which will help so many of our homegrown women-owned restaurants,” Marshall said. “Restaurants are the heart of our communities, where people can go for comfort and nourishment, and they have been devastated by the pandemic.”
Female-owned establishments and women workers have been hit particularly hard throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, shouldering a disproportionate burden of the virus’s impact on the business world. Many industries that heavily employ women, including hospitality and retail, have seen mass layoffs, while caregiving responsibilities for these individuals have increased and small businesses have been devastated.
The Pennsylvania Conference for Women, a non-partisan, nonprofit organization, has stated that it is committed to promoting gender equality and to amplifying the influence of women in the workplace with initiatives like the newly-announced grant program.
“It is something that I may be interested in,” Luanne Shearer of Luanne’s Route 68 tavern in Industry said. “I think it may be a worthwhile program.”
Pennsylvania Conference for Women board president Leslie Stiles said. “Through this initiative, we are seeking to give back and to help women restaurant owners weather the fiscal upheaval that COVID-19 is causing. It truly is an example of women helping women during these difficult times.”
Pennsylvania restaurants have been forced to lay off over 330,000 workers due to the pandemic, and even now, staffing levels have only returned to 63% of pre-pandemic numbers. Organizations like the PRLA have been working extensively with restaurant owners and operators and politicians across the commonwealth in an attempt to keep the industry afloat through troubling times.
“For more than six months, restaurants have been forced to close or to operate at a deeply decreased capacity,” PRLA President and CEO John Longstreet said. “Restaurants truly are suffering, and this grant will make a measurable impact for women restaurant owners across Pennsylvania.”
The Poconos, which take in over $3 billion in revenue via hospitality and tourism, have seen extensive disruptions to seasonal foot traffic due to the pandemic. Just this past Friday, owners and operators of numerous area restaurants came together with local politicians at Shawnee Inn to discuss the quagmire surrounding restaurants in the commonwealth returning to 50% capacity, a subject that has many in the industry concerned about their future.
Stroudsburg Mayor Tarah Probst said that the grant program sounds like a positive indication that society is moving in a direction to empower women and pursue equality in an industry that has traditionally been dominated by men.
“I think it’s incredible; I think it’s an excellent opportunity,” Probst said. “I love that the $175,000 will be spread around, it’s really great, so it’s not winner-take-all. That’s awesome. $2,500 right now to any business is a big deal in these times, and I think that it’s really excellent that they’re helping women.”
East Stroudsbug’s Beer House Café chef and manager Chahrazed “Cece” Chadli understands the difficulty of being a woman in an industry where the odds have traditionally been stacked against you. Add the difficulties that the hospitality industry has suffered due to COVID-19, and it is easy to see why it is integral to offer support to these entrepreneurs.
“Being a woman, people don’t respect you as much,” Chadli said. “And I’m young, I’m 32, and I’m always working that much harder to get some kind of respect from people that are older than me, people that look at me like, ‘Wow, really you’re doing this?’ And I’m like, ”Yeah, I’m doing it, I’m good at, I’m sorry.’ I’m also not sorry, because I’ve worked hard to get here.”
Laurie Fox, owner of Flood’s in Stroudsburg, said that such a grant program could go a long way toward helping restaurant owners support their staffs, a particularly difficult endeavor for many establishments throughout the pandemic.
“I sat down and took account of who I’m responsible for,” Fox said. “So I’ve got eight bartenders, about 10 waitresses, I have eight people who work in the kitchen – which sounds like not a lot of people. But think about it: the beer delivery guys who have a family, the food delivery guys who have a family, I’ve got my window washer who has a family, I’ve got the kids who clean up for me in the morning, I’ve got the bouncers. I’ve worked it out, and it’s 102 people. 102 people depend on me.”
Fox said that she is doing everything she can to help her employees remain solvent in tumultuous times, and that initiatives that aim to help women in the industry is an incredibly valuable asset.
Nicole DeFour, co-owner of Quench Cafe in Stroudsburg, said that she is interested in looking into the grant program if her establishment meets the qualifications. DeFour said that even small-scale grants like the ones that will be offered through the initiative can go a long way toward helping women in the restaurant industry throughout the Poconos and the rest of Pennsylvania keep their businesses alive and well despite the challenges of COVID-19.
“It doesn’t take much to make a difference, because everything helps,” DeFour said. “There is such a strain – there is a strain for all businesses right now with our economic climate, but there’s a particular strain for women, so anything that can be done would be helpful.”