It felt like someone unplugged our lives,” recalled a hotel server whose husband was serving as a chef de partie for a well-known Dallas restaurant when the pandemic hit.
The couple, who didn’t want their names shared in print, met 18 years ago while working at the same hotel.
“We ‘grew up’ in the industry; it’s our family,” the wife said. “One day, we were all unemployed, separated from our work families, and unsure about our futures.”
When restaurants and hotels shut down last year due to COVID-19, thousands of restaurant and hospitality workers lost their jobs. Some companies offered partial pay furlough deals, but many were just let go with no severance.
Alison Matis and Cheryl Weis are experienced event producers, planning large-scale food events such as Park & Palate and Chefs for Farmers through their company, FestEvents Group.
With their event business cratering, and Matis’ husband, chef de cuisine at Fearing’s, and many of his team furloughed, Matis and Weis saw first-hand that industry folks were losing their jobs and food and beverage providers were losing their customers.
The pair, who also co-founded FestEvents Foundation dedicated to workforce sustainability and development in the restaurant and hospitality industries, jumped into action.
They connected with industry leaders locally and created Staff Meal, a massive collaboration between industry leaders such as Steve DeShazo, director of workforce development at Dallas College, suppliers such as Chef’s Produce, and other contributors such as Omni Hotels & Resorts. Staff Meal provided more than 50,000 meals to displaced hospitality workers and their families.
While they were managing Staff Meal, Matis and Weis, through their foundation, created Piehole Project, an online auction of 25 pies made from some of Dallas’ top chefs and bakers, including Anastasia Quiñones-Pittman of José, Matt McCallister of Homewood, and Chad Houser of Café Momentum. That auction raised $14,000 for their Chefs of Tomorrow Scholarship program, which funds culinary and hospitality scholarships at schools such as Johnson & Wales, the University of North Texas, and Dallas College.
Bolstered by the success of the Piehole Project and keenly aware of the need to support and develop the hospitality industry workforce, which is suffering a staffing shortage, Matis and Weis are producing another fundraiser.
Piehole Project Live! The Variety Show is a one-night-only special event on Oct. 28, where 15 Dallas chefs will prepare dinner for small groups of diners.
Between courses, entertainment acts including an aerialist, a magician, and a belly dancer will perform on center stage. The event includes another online pie auction which will start two weeks before the event and conclude that evening. Tickets, tables sales, and sponsorships are available.
Matis and Weis expect to raise $25,000 for culinary student scholarships in 2021-22 to help relieve the restaurant staffing shortage we all feel right now.
It’s a tough industry, but it’s filled with advancement opportunities and educational support, such as FestEvent Foundation’s Chefs of Tomorrow Scholarships.