Amidst the rain clouds of bad news, one California initiative is offering hope by transforming traditional restaurant operations to kitchens that provide food on a sliding scale to low-wage workers, health care professionals, first responders, and others in need.
The new program, announced by Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration, is a statewide network of independent restaurants called High Road Kitchens. It provides jobs for restaurant workers and a subsidy for responsible restaurant owners who commit to paying a living wage and following equitable employment practices across the state.
The San Diego Workforce Partnership and The San Diego Foundation are coordinating with local restaurants—including Ponce’s Mexican Restaurant and Super Cocina—and One Fair Wage to fund the training, start-up costs and initial wages for workers rehired as part of this initiative.
“This pandemic has hit restaurants hard, and it’s been a rollercoaster for our entire staff and their families,” says Mikey Knab, Director of Operations at Ponce’s Mexican Restaurant. “Now, with High Road Kitchens, we’re able keep our employees working with the long-term initiative of increasing their wages. Being able to welcome the community with food is exactly why we’re here, and now we get to show extra love to those who need it most.”
“We are excited to provide meals to those in need and at the same time increase wages for those most susceptible at this time. All the while rewarding restaurants who strive for the best conditions for their workplace,” says Juan Pablo, owner of Super Cocina.
Ponce’s Mexican Restaurant and Super Cocina are offering 500 free meals to essential and low-wage workers over the course of the program. They are also offering curbside pickup for customers paying on a sliding scale, allowing those who are financially able to subsidize free meals for those who are food insecure during the COVID-19 crisis. The goal is to include at least 15 restaurants and serve at least 7,500 free meals in San Diego County.
“This initiative benefits our entire community—local restaurants and their employees and customers, as well as essential workers, says Peter Callstrom, CEO of San Diego Workforce Partnership. “In this time of great need, these small businesses are able to take care of our region’s first responders and low-wage workers. Participating restaurants are also setting a standard for job quality, wages and benefits.”
High Road Kitchens presents the opportunity to build a new, more equitable, sustainable industry for all. The program provides a combination of public and private dollars to restaurant owners who commit to ensuring livable wages and increased equity for their employees when the industry is fully re-opened in 2021.
“Helping our neighbors and friends get through this pandemic requires a multitude of unique collaborations like High Road Kitchens,” says Mark Stuart, President and CEO of The San Diego Foundation. “We are honored to be a lead partner in this innovative initiative connecting the generous spirit of San Diegans with the vital needs of our community.”
We have a chance to change the way the San Diego restaurant industry works for the better. If we commit to High Road practices now, we’ll have a head start on a better future. The first step is feeding those in need and employing our workers.
Restaurants interested in participating should contact Mikey Knab.
Any San Diego County business looking for support can learn more about our business services here.