Chef Edward Lee’s piece “I’m Afraid It’s Too Late to Save Restaurants” appeared in Bon Appetit on Friday.
“It was a particularly dark week I believe when the interviewer called me,” said Chef Lee in an interview with WDRB News. “I just, I think it’s very important for restaurant people to keep telling our stories.”
He’s watched as restaurant after restaurant have been forced to close their doors because of the COVID-19 pandemic and feels like even more won’t survive.
“At some point it feels like such an up hill battle,” he said.
When COVID-19 forced his Louisville restaurants to close in the spring, he shifted his attention to helping restaurant workers in need. Since March, his non-profit The LEE Initiative has served more than a million meals, set up more than 30 relief kitchens around the country and given more than $800,000 in grants to independent restaurants and farms.
“We’ve been doing so much, and it’s heart breaking because as much as we do, doesn’t make a difference. People are still losing their jobs, people are still losing their businesses,”
While he’s thankful he’s been able to help, he admits it’s not enough. Now he’s focusing on the federal government.
“For the first time in the history of restaurants we have no where to turn to,” said Chef Lee. “We need to pass an act in Congress. We need a second round of relief aid.”
He ended the Bon Appetit piece saying that he hopes he’s wrong about the future of the hospitality industry, because for now hope is the only thing he can do.
“This was a way to put it out here that we’re depressed, and we’re really in a tough place. When you come to my restaurant next week when we reopen I will be happy and I will put on a smiling face and we’ll be there for you but it’s hard,” he said.
Chef Lee encourages people to write to their elected representatives about getting support and by ordering take out or getting gift cards at your favorite local restaurant. He credits customers for helping restaurants survive.