Non-profit aims to help restaurant employees affected by COVID-19 crisis

As a growing number of restaurants across the US adjust to new restrictions, some are struggling to keep their businesses afloat. 

Late Monday afternoon, Harris County officials restricted Houston restaurants to issue carry-out and delivery orders only. No dining-in will be allowed for at least two weeks. 

In a city known for its food scene, the impact could be devastating. 

RELATED: Harris Co. shuts down bars, dine-in restaurant service

Less than a day after the announcement, William Lim decided to shut down both of his Japanese restaurants on Richmond and cut back on staff. 

Lim and his cousins own and operate Yokushi Robata and Sushi Wabi. 

"Even though we've shut the door, we still have to pay. It's not like we shut the door and everything stops. I cannot afford my employees to come in because we don't make that kind of money to pay overhead. You cannot survive," Lim said. 

Lim said carry-out and delivery​ orders typically only make up 5-10% of their total sales. Seated in a prime location means pricey to rent and high overhead costs that they now cannot afford to cover. 

"In order to run a restaurant, you need all of those employees. If you're not making that sale and if you open the door, I'm actually losing more than when I close my door. So by closing my door, hopefully, I can survive," Lim said. 

Originally from Malaysia, Lim said these restaurants are everything he, his wife and his two young kids have worked for, for the last 10 years. 


"This is my dream. This is my American dream. I built this restaurant with my bare hands," Lim said. 

Lim's situation is just one example of more than 15-million restaurant employees across the US struggling from the repercussions of the Coronavirus. 

Houston-based non-profit Southern Smoke Foundation is designed to help in times like this, through their emergency relief fund. 

Food and beverage employees can apply for help anonymously online. 

Southern Smoke Foundation

In consideration of the City of Houston’s announcement regarding events in Houston in the coming weeks, the Southern Smoke Spring event at The Revaire on March 28 has been canceled.

Southern Smoke was founded by Houston chef Chris Shepherd. Since it launched in 2015, the foundation has donated more than $1.6 million to food and beverage workers in need. 

Executive Director Kathryn Lott said the foundation's awards committee will prioritize helping Houston-based workers and those with dire medical needs when reviewing applications. 

"We got over 200 applications today. They're coming in more and more frequently as the day goes on. We only got about 189 applications total during Hurricane Harvey. So that sort of tells you where we are," Lott said.

"Where we are in desperate need and urgent need is funding. Our own spring gala which was supposed to take place on March 28th was canceled. So right now, to take care of such a large crisis with so many people desperately in need, we are asking people to dig deep. Even their $10 or $25 donations -- all of them are helpful," Lott continued. 

Melissa Stewart, Executive Director of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association said people can do their part to help local restaurants.

Stewart said people working from home or staying-in to practice 'social distancing' should: 

  1. Continue to order take-out and delivery 
  2. Buy gift cards or merchandise from their favorite restaurants online 
  3. Tip deliverers generously 

Food delivery apps like Uber Eats are currently waiving delivery fees.