You've Got A Friend

by Francine Cohen

The last time any of us thought existing by flashlight was fun we were five.  Hanging out in our bed fort after lights out and reading and giggling at what we pulled over our parents when we were supposed to be asleep.  

None of us were asleep when Hurricane Sandy hit NY and NJ, knocking out power and leaving businesses and homes under water, but it was like a bad dream.  And there was not a lot of giggling going on.

Unless you want to count the hysterical outbursts of disbelief that came along with realizing that our crippled city wasn't going to quickly get back on its feet with the help of the insurance policies the hospitality industry had.  For so many bars and restaurants who had lost thousands in inventory and equipment, not to mention lost revenue and lost wages as employees literally could not get to work, even if it had been open, there was a sense of wonder and fear that the businesses which had been built on hopes, dreams and hard work were going to be washed away.  How could all that food, those dry goods, the flooring, the furniture, the ice machine, etc. be replaced if insurance money wasn't going to over it?  Was there a way?

Indeed there was.  Like the village that Hilary Clinton once imagined, and in the true spirit of pioneer families watching out for one another the national bartending community rallied to help their brothers and sisters in NYC get back in their feet.  

To date well over $20,000 has been raised by various USBG chapters (as well as non-USBG affiliated folks) around the country with the money being sent to New York so that bars in need could get at least some of the funds required to get back to business.

USBG President, Jason Littrell, gratefully remarks, "The USBGNY is receiving the generous gifts from our sister and brother chapters around the country by their own initiative.  We as a chapter are honored by these remarkable donations and are directly allocating these funds to the places hit the hardest, and in priority order of the places need the funds the most."

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the bar community rallied with such force.  Says brand builder John Henry, "Maybe as Thomas Tip O'Neill said about politics...'all assistance and community is local,’ even in this high tech social media world. To truly help out our own it is all about getting there with the warm hug, food and putting the work gloves on in the right community places in need. The machines luckily make that easier but do not replace that in person touch. We are in the hospitality business after all."

Dan de Oliveira, Debbi Peek, Lynn House, Todd Appel and others in Chicago took their passion for assisting and quickly put it to good use, raising over $8,100 at an event that came together in just 72 hours.   House comments, "Within minutes of the planning email going around 18 guest bartenders and donations for raffles came out of the woodwork.  It's great because as an industry, we’re not rich.  A day without work, much less a week, can really hurt and we know that."

While that lost revenue can't be replaced, the damage can be mitigated.  These fundraising efforts are tangibly putting equipment and tools back into the hands of businesses.  Littrell explains, "We can't do anything for lost revenue...we're talking about billions of dollars here.  To spread the $20k+ that we have received around, we generally don't commit 100% of the cost of the equipment, but we do usually offer half of the dollar value of new equipment without any red tape, or bureaucratic delays.  We act immediately and decisively. With respect to other Federally endorsed agencies, our bartenders can't wait that long. We are focusing on partial (usually half) of the value of a new piece of heavy machinery like an ice machine as these are hardest things to get when you don't have any cash flow."

While the USBG NY deals directly with equipment suppliers to alleviate the cash pinch and help replace damaged items the money from other parts of the country, as well as hands on assistance, continues to pour in. 

The Miami bartenders sympathize with their NY brethren as well as anyone as Laura Cullen, Miami USBG board member and owner of industry favorite Clarke's can attest.  She comments, “As a small business owner I know what it’s like to be without electricity.  If your revenue flow stops unexpectedly for several day in a row.  It’s detrimental to your business and your family who supports – when you take their revenue stream away it’s devastating."

She continues, "I think the bartending community is supportive of one another both in triumph and in tragedy.  Here we’re used to hurricanes but it’s completely alien to those in NYC.  I was overwhelmed by a FB post that said 'Let’s go see people clean their bars out, cook hot meals for people.'  The USBG here in Miami is like minded about giving back to community and what better than to give back to our own community?"

The Louisville, Kentucky drinks community wouldn't have it any other way.  Susie Hoyt, Beverage Director at Silver Dollar, shares details of her city's hospitality community coming together to raise $4,000 (so far; the effort isn't over).  She explains, "We were heartbroken and it reminded us of Katrina.  Lynette and Jared and I were talking and Jared and I had already been discussing this and we wondered, 'What can we do to help people?' We put ourselves in their shoes and thought about the people can’t work, get to work.  So we thought we could raise $ to help out our brothers and sisters in NYC.  Bartenders and servers and barbacks and whoever it is have been effected by the storm.  We decided to do a fundraiser at the Silver Dollar and were convinced we could get bosses on board.  We planned to donate tips and bosses will match them.  And we thought our friends could help too. (Which they did).” Hoyt's idea was to have a concerted effort with many bars in town making their version of a Hurricane with proceeds going towards this effort.  Thanks to the generous donation of product from Perfect Purée and various spirit brands the bars in Louisville have raised $4,400 this far.  Hoyt wants the money to go directly to those who need it most.

She says, "People need money for toiletries, food, etc and we’re prepared to buy money orders if that’s what it’s going to take.  I’m bringing it up there myself.  My plan was to figure out what people need and put it into money orders and gift cards.  We are going to try to address as many needs as the possible the money stretches to. The money is going directly to owners.  I feel confident the money will go the right way." 

If you're an owner with staff that felt the negative impact of the storm and needs some help getting back on their feet you can reach Susie at:

While Hoyt was getting ready to get on a plane and hand deliver some cash Dimitrios Zahariadis, Connecticut's USBG chapter co-founder and current VP didn’t have to travel so far as he and USBG Connecticut and USBG Rhode Island members packed up their cars with supplies, squeezed in some bartenders and came down to lend a helping hand in the clean up and relief effort.

And as the clean up and relief effort continues, so does the nationwide bar industry fundraising effort.  In Cleveland Nathan Burdette and his USBG team have a fundraiser planned for the biggest going out night of the year - Thanksgiving.  He explains why they feel compelled to take revenue and tips on the busiest night of the year and send it to NYC instead of pocketing it. He says, "It's what we feel is right.  In talking with our board members at a meeting on Wednesday I didn’t get to finish bringing up the idea before everyone was on board.  It’s something we all desire to do - raise money and send it over there."

He continues, "This is going to be a rebuild that’s going to be a long time and we want to get something to them as soon as possible.  It's about bartenders giving to bartenders.  To promote the event we will be posting on the USBG Ohio and NY pages, and going through a PR company in Cleveland, and opening it up to local radio stations.  We intend to put a little flash out there, talk to radio personalities in the morning we know and they’ll plug it for us.  We are looking to go high volume and do it very big; this is a fundraiser and we need anything and anyone who can help.  Meanwhile we'll toss a little of our funds from our account their way – cutting a small check in the meantime."

A not so small check will be cut for hurricane relief efforts thanks to the keen organizational skills of Audrey Saunders and Kenta Goto who hosted a 22 all-star bartender lineup at Pegu this past Sunday night.  With cocktail proceeds going to charity this packed event raised a significant amount of money drawing in throughout the night every notable face in the business.

The faces from the Northern California USBG chapter may not all be that familiar to bartenders in NYC but that's no less reason for the Californians to step up and help.  Steven Liles remarks, "The Norcal chapter of the USBG is holding a fundraiser on November 18th at Local Edition to help support the community of bartenders and their bars in the Tri-State area. Many Restaurants and bars were affected by Hurricane Sandy, and we are hoping to help alleviate some of the expense of repairs.  We have a very strong community of bartenders here in the San Francisco area, and it is not lost on us that the bar community extends beyond the Bay Area. Many of us have friends and colleagues in the NY area, and we want to help them as much as possible. Many members of USBGNY have gone above and beyond to help with cleanup throughout the New York area, and it is important to honor their efforts with any help we can offer." 

With all these efforts, the others that happened this week at The Wren (thanks Meaghan Dorman and Mickey McIlroy) and Pouring Ribbons (the whole team there who also had to contend with their own hurricane damage) and those still to come, along with clearly supportive friends like these around the country, it makes it easy to see the light; even when all around us seems to be darkness.


Read more from Editorial.