Coronavirus crisis and restaurants — Here's how we're going to overcome this: Celebrity Chef David Burke

Coronavirus crisis and restaurants — Here's how we're going to overcome this: Celebrity Chef David Burke

March 25, 2020

Chef David Burke: 90 percent of my employees being laid off

Chef and restaurant owner David Burke reveals the hit his restaurants have taken in response to coronavirus shutdowns and restrictions.

Those of us in the restaurant industry in New Jersey, New York and beyond are reeling from something we’ve never experienced before — complete silence and nowhere to go.

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My executive team and I are heartbroken. We’ve closed down and laid off nearly all our employees. My New Jersey locations are still doing takeout – VENTANAS Restaurant & Lounge, David Burke Orange Lawn, and Drifthouse by David Burke — but that’s just a glimmer of hope.

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It’s certainly not going to sustain our business. But it keeps our managers and chefs busy and it keeps us in touch with our clientele. We are thankful for that. My New York sites are completely shut down.

None of us understands what the overall impact will be.

In New Jersey alone it’s a $12 billion industry. There is so much uncertainty because nothing like this has ever happened before in our lifetime.

I don’t know what this means for my business, which was soaring and it seemed like the sky was the limit.

Then the pandemic swatted us down. It happened so quickly.

But this is not the first time I’ve had to pull myself up from misfortune. While painful and humbling, I learned that as leaders, as business owners and employers, we must maintain our optimism; we must remain calm or all hell will break loose.

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We have to let our teams know that we are in it for the long haul. And we must communicate, communicate, communicate.

Still, I’m an optimist and I admit I am concerned.

This is a time to channel our younger, fearless selves. We have to do whatever it takes to make things right again. It’s going to require a lot of work.  So, we have to wear our workload as a badge of honor.

During trying times, it has helped me to look to the past for answers or encouragement.

How did we ever accomplish all the things we have in the United States?

It was a little more than 200 years ago when our patriots defied the most powerful country in the world, and won to begin the United States of America as we know it today.

What we need to do now is to dig deeper into our hearts, be creative, be resourceful, be resilient, be imaginative like our forefathers.

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We need to listen and adhere to what our government is telling us to do.

I’m looking to my own past for answers, too. What did we do when it was time to start dinner service and the dishwasher called in sick, the grill chef was soused, the manager quit and the toilets were all clogged?

We dug in and we got it done.

This is a time to channel our younger, fearless selves. We have to do whatever it takes to make things right again. It’s going to require a lot of work.

So, we have to wear our workload as a badge of honor.

But before we get to the work, this strange and unprecedented time – our mandated time off – has forced us hit the pause button.

It’s time to take refuge in our homes, spend time with our loved ones and friends. It’s a time for reflection, recharging and planning for the future.

I’m going to start writing my new cookbook and log recipes; I’m going to help my neighbors and remain open to helping charities; and I’m working with my team to help any feeding programs we can, when the time comes, for the hospital and health care professionals.

And I’m going to take the time to smell the flowers, as they say, and look for the beauty that is all around.

Recently, I had the chance to do just that. I was doing some yard work, something I rarely have time to do, when I heard a single small bird creating so much music it was remarkable.

I was surprised by that solo bird in these leafless trees. That bird was singing a song like nobody’s business.

It was a song of hope, I thought. Not hate, not fear and not the finger-pointing song. No matter what, the sun’s gonna shine tomorrow and that bird is gonna be there. So, will we.

My mentor, Chef Charlie Palmer at the River Café, once said that he hired smart assed kids from Jersey because they had good attitudes and they could “take a lot of s**t.”

While I’m taking my forced time off, listening to that tiny bird make all that music, I’m gonna’ channel that smart-assed kid and get ready to do what it takes to get back in that kitchen, get back to the resilient, crazy world of restaurants.

We’re going to find a way to break through or recreate and reinvent ourselves. We’ll be back as sure as the sun’s gonna’ shine.

So, I encourage you to take this time to listen to the birds and, the bees, eat healthy foods, exercise, get to all of those tasks on your to-do list that you never seemed to have time to do. And lend a helping hand to those who need one.

In fact, I just might go out and buy my new feathered friend a birdbath. I think I'd like to keep that songbird close to me for a while, to stay in tune.

Chef David Burke’s rock star fame rests solidly on his mastery of the French technique, New World innovation, imagination and his, scrappy, never-quit attitude. With a tsunami of awards and credits to prove his culinary chops, Chef Burke is considered a leading pioneer in American cooking, named Executive Chef of the legendary River Café at the ripe age of 26, an amazing feat in and of itself.

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