The Black Lives Matter movement and the cry for justice were very much on the minds of restaurant operators during Day 1 of the digital Restaurants Rise summit on Tuesday.
The four-day event began after the country had been rocked by several days of unrest in reaction to the death last week of George Floyd at the hand of a Minneapolis police officer. Floyd’s death sparked a wave of outrage expressed by both peaceful protests and incidents of looting and property damage.
In Louisville, Ky., the operator of a popular barbecue spot was killed in crossfire as law enforcement officials attempted to disperse a crowd. Elsewhere, restaurants and other businesses suffered broken windows, theft and fire as rage drove some to sow discord.
While the Restaurants Rise event was designed to help operators address the chaos of an industry turned upside down by a global pandemic, several of the participants could not help but address the mood created by the ongoing reaction to Floyd’s killing.
In a session about how core values have helped Wingstop navigate the pandemic, chair and CEO Charlie Morrison called the killing of Floyd an “unspeakable act” and a “senseless use of force” by someone in authority.
Saying it was weighing on his mind and heart, Morrison said he brought the issue up in a recent video with 250 or so members of his team, saying, “I want to figure out what we can do as an organization to eliminate this from our society, because I do believe as a corporation there is something we can do.”
By opening that dialog, Morrison said, “we took off the mute button and what we heard was raw. It was real. It was emotional and moving.”
Morrison said Wingstop will form a task force to keep that conversation going, to provide clarity and “to make sure we do something to impact this problem in our country.”
Despite the polarization in the country now, he said conversations can touch on ideas like “not everyone is racist because they’re white,” and not all police officers are bad. But there are challenges, like unconscious bias, that can be addressed in a way that bring people together, he added.
Morrison said he is moved by the quote often credited to Benjamin Franklin: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”
Toby Espinosa, vice president of business development for DoorDash, opened his session about off-premise strategies noting that “when our communities hurt, we hurt.”
Espinosa said, “The last few days have been absolutely devastating, and is the tragic continuation of the years of brutality and inequality in our country. For those of you who are members of the black community who are listening, please know that we stand with you.”
He added that DoorDash will also be speaking up, taking action and using the platform to support justice.
“We at DoorDash cannot begin to fully understand what it means and what everyone is going through, but we also know that silence and inaction in the face of injustice, inequality and discrimination provide equal consent.”
Similarly, Nicole Milnthorpe, chief financial officer of Smokey Bones, also called the acts of violence against Floyd and others tragic, heartbreaking and unacceptable.
Milnthorpe expressed the company’s support of protesters, “including many of our employees out there making a difference. Every American has the right to be themselves and they have the right to be safe. And we’ll continue to support our employees in our community in every way possible.”
Sarah Lockyer, group publisher for the Informa Restaurant & Food Group that includes Nation’s Restaurant News and Restaurant Hospitality, also weighed in, saying the industry was already “tested at its heart” with billions in lost sales and millions in lost jobs amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“And most recently additional challenges faced over the past week as our nation reels from the pain of lost lives and deep-seated racism and tension that have filled the streets affecting our communities and our businesses and our people,” said Lockyer.
But, she added, “I know that when the restaurant industry and the communities it serves are hurting, restaurants choose to care, they choose to see, and they choose to act. The best businesses always listen, learn and lead. We hope Restaurants Rise inspires the best in all of us.”
Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected]
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout
This is part of special coverage of the Restaurants Rise digital summit taking place online June 2-5, powered by Nation’s Restaurant News and Restaurant Hospitality. Register for live sessions or on-demand replays at RestaurantsRise.com. Title sponsors include DoorDash, Pork Checkoff and True Aussie Beef & Lamb. A portion of proceeds from this event will help support the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund from the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.