Restaurants helping feed laid-off tourism workers

Businesses including the Wharf are helping to provide meals to those without work. But the demand could soon exceed the supply.

The Grand Old House and The Wharf restaurants may be closed, but their chefs are busier than ever.

The restaurants, under joint ownership, have set up an initiative to support laid-off workers in the tourism industry by providing a meal a day.

It started with their own employees, who are no longer picking up salaries. The two venues have been forced to close because of curfew regulations.

Now the initiative has spread to involve workers across the industry.

Luciano De Riso, head of operations for both restaurants, said the Wharf kitchen had been given permission to open under a ‘curfew time’ exemption.

It has been providing 500 meals each week to Meals on Wheels, Acts of Random Kindness and the Family Resource Centre, among others.

But now it is turning its attention to the tourism industry as well.

“We are trying to provide a daily meal for anyone who has lost their job,” he said, noting that over 100 workers, both Caymanians and expats, had been in touch since the restaurants began promoting the initiative on social media.

“We have had emails from all corners of the industry: hotels, restaurants, water sport activities and transport.”

He said the Wharf kitchen was now preparing around 160 meals a day, with 50 of those going to the tourism industry, on top of the meals it provides to its own staff.

The restaurants provide meals to several charities as well as to tourism workers.

He said many workers from all over the world were stranded in Cayman without salaries. Ultimately, many of them hope to get home. But while they are here, they are struggling to survive.

“The biggest requests that we got first was from the water sports industry. They were the first to close and some of them have been three or four weeks now without income.”

He said the next wave of requests came from restaurant workers as the island moved to ‘shelter in place’ restrictions preventing food outlets from opening. 

Some employers are paying their staff during the downturn, some are not.

De Riso said it was difficult for employers to provide salaries with no revenue coming in.

He said the ‘Supporting Each Other’ initiative was at least making sure the workers were fed. Because of limited funds and produce, he said they had to means-test those who applied and restrict it to people who had no income.

He added that the restaurants could probably sustain the initiative through to the end of April without further donations.

Progressive Distributors and Topimex have provided food at discounted prices and Bluff Farms on the Brac has supplied goat meat. The restaurants’ regular customers have also donated funds.

He hopes other restaurants can also get involved to help prolong the programme as long as it is needed.

“We already have our kitchen up and running and we have staff here who are volunteering their time,” he said.

“If the other restaurants want to support us and send us some produce we can help more people and keep it going for longer.”

To assist this initiative or if you need help, email [email protected] or [email protected].

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