Restaurants flood social media with fundraisers to help employees

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

As restaurants and bars in Metro Detroit are forced to shutter or pare down to only carry-out service due to COVID-19 concerns, many have sought out the kindness of others for help. 

Dozens of online fundraisers have sprouted up over the past week with business owners asking for donations to help support their staff, many who rely on the gratuity of guests dining in. 

Brooklyn Street Local the Michigan Avenue restaurant in Detroit on Friday, July 20, 2018.

In addition to launching fundraisers, restaurants and bars are also asking customers purchase gift cards online to use in the future, or merchandise like T-shirts. 

Brooklyn Street Local in Corktown is still offering carry-out service, but has had to reduce the size of the staff because dining room seating is currently prohibited. A GoFundMe campaign started Tuesday offers gifts from the restaurant in exchange for a donation toward the staff. 

Cafe owner Deveri Gifford is hoping to raise $4,000 for her employees, and is offering Brooklyn Street Local tote bags and a variety of other gifts for those who donate $50 or more. 

A similar business, Folk, a Corktown cafe serving locally sourced food for breakfast and lunch, is also seeing donations for laid-off hourly workers. 

One neighbor created a fund on Facebook for all of the affected bar and restaurant employees in downtown Berkley. 

"Ellyn Craine Davidson, she's a marketing professional and master fundraiser," said Berkley Common co-owner Chris Gross. The two women are neighbors and wanted to do something to help everyone hurting by this pandemic, including business owners, but decided to focus and start with restaurant employees. 

"The thought of letting everyone go is devastating," said Gross, whose neighborhood gastropub is offering carry-out, curbside and delivery service, as well as wine to-go. 

The Facebook fundraiser was launched Monday and has already exceeded half its initial goal of $10,000.

"We're at $5,800 already," said Gross, who said she's opened a bank account and plans to get checks into workers' hands by March 27, which would be the next payday for many. "I'm a CPA but my profession is not in the fundraising side, so I'm trying to do it as fairly and transparently as I can." 

Berkeley restaurant and bar workers who are suffering from lost wages because of the order to close bars and dining rooms can apply to be considered for the funds. 

"That Ellen came up with this idea makes me so happy because putting good out there during this time occupies all of our brains, and adds something ... when this is all over we can look back on it."

The fundraising goals for bars and restaurants run big and small.

Eric Farrell, the owner 327 Braun Court, a tiny, hip upstairs bar in Ann Arbor, is hoping to raise $2,000 for his staff. Marrow, a restaurant and butcher shop in Detroit's West Village had raised nearly $10,000 in just four days to help support the front-of-house and staff that is paid hourly and dependent on restaurant traffic. 

Working Class Outlaw restaurant group is hoping to raise $10,000 each for employees of Ferndale's Public House and Antihero restaurants, and $15,000 for its Imperial staff. The group recently announced plans for a second location of the So-Cal roadhouse-style taco joint later this year next to the Fillmore Detroit

Chartreuse Kitchen + Cocktails in Detroit is raising money for staff via the Tock website and app, which is usually employed to sell tickets to dining events. Instead, guests can purchase $20 "tickets" that will directly help the award-winning restaurant's staff. 

Some fundraisers are run by the employees themselves — Sports and Social at Little Caesars Arena and PJ's Lager House in Corktown, to name a few — not the owner or manager of the restaurant. 

Chef and owner Omar Mitchell stands outside his fine dining restaurant Table No. 2 on Livernois in Detroit with curbside carryout for a customer.

For Table No. 2 in Detroit, this is the second hardship the new fine dining restaurant has had to face since opening in April 2019. The first was the construction along Livernois' Avenue of Fashion. The lengthy roadwork caused Table No. 2 to have a 70% dive in business, according to chef and owner Omar Mitchell, who launched a GoFundMe for his employees Tuesday

He said the shutdown of dining rooms is definitely hitting him harder than the construction woes did in 2019. 

"I'm literally offering a 50% discount on the entire menu in hopes to keep the doors open, staff employed and business alive," he said, saying the construction was "horrible," but he was able to get creative to keep guests in the seats. 

"It's a tricky situation for fine dining restaurants because were not set up with the carry out separate door or bright neon to-go signs that leaves a thought in the guest mind: hey, I can order can carryout from there in the future,'" he said. 

Table No. 2 is offering delivery and curbside carry out via the website,

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Twitter: @melodybaetens