Americas

Thomas Keller represents foodservice on Trump’s council

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When US president Donald Trump announced his Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups several chefs were asked to participate

When US president Donald Trump announced his Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups earlier this month several chefs were included among the professionals asked to participate.

The aim of what Trump has also called “opening our country council” is to draw on the insight and expertise of professionals from all sectors of the economy to chart “a path forward toward a future of unparalleled American prosperity,” according to a White House release.

A sounding board

Thomas Keller, among the most celebrated chefs in the country, is one of four representatives of independent restaurants on the group. He is joined by fellow big-name chefs Wolfgang Puck, Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

They join a list of over 20 people in the food and drink group from some of the biggest businesses in foodservice, including McDonald’s chief executive officer Chris Kempczinsky; Starbucks president and CEO Kevin Johnson; and John Chidsey, CEO of Subway.

The group is also joined by Marvin Irby, interim CEO of the National Restaurant Association, who said that restaurants have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 as state and local governments have implemented social distancing policies.

“Economic forecasts reveal the industry will sustain at least a $225bn loss and be forced to eliminate between five to seven million jobs over the next three months. Despite this extreme economic hardship, restaurants continue to step up in every neighborhood across the country to feed and unite their communities,” he said.

Together they will act as a sounding board for the federal administration to offer advice on the issue of reopening the economy as the lockdown is wound down and businesses start to consider how to re-emerge.

A push for change

The long list of panelists representing every sector imaginable, from manufacturing and retail to banking and healthcare. There are some very well-known names among them – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Tim Cook from Apple have all been named in the groups.

Notably absent from the food and drink group are the names of chefs and operators from smaller independent restaurants. Since the announcement many have pointed to a lack of diversity with people of color and women missing from the list.

Keller, though, asserted that pushing for change from the inside is better than complaining from the outside. “Whether the broken PPP [purchasing power parity], the need for business insurance relief, or the unprecedented economic hardship – each issue is dire. More than 15 million people’s livelihoods are at stake right now,” he said on Twitter.

Keller has also joined with other chefs to highlight the fact that insurance companies have not agreed to pay out to restaurants forced to close – The Business Interruption Group, founded by Keller and colleagues including Boulud, Dominique Crenn and Edouardo Jordan, is pushing for change that will force insurers to pay out against claims.

Important work to be done

Regardless what people think of the selected people for the panel, there’s no doubt that the sector needs strong representation to get through this challenging time.

Thousands of restaurants across the US will fear for their future as they attempt to navigate the storm. The National Restaurant Association has found that the entire restaurant industry has lost a staggering two-thirds of its workforce, more than eight million employees, as a result of Covid-19 closures.

And as some states are starting to consider re-opening the foodservice sector, Sean Kennedy, National Restaurant Association executive vice president of public affairs, sounds a note of caution.

“Re-opening our economy is an important step, and a goal we share with president Trump. Restaurants are already working with federal, state, and local health officials on safety requirements and best practices to be ready when the time is right,” he says.

“But, plans to reopen should not overshadow important work still needed during the shutdown. Only about one half of all restaurants have even been able to offer takeout, drive-thru and delivery services.”

Tina Nielsen