Kennedy: Setting the table for more minority restaurant managers, owners

Frank Brown owner of Frank's Carribean Grill, located at 905 Albany St. in Schenectady
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Frank Brown owner of Frank's Carribean Grill, located at 905 Albany St. in Schenectady

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The restaurant industry may be diverse – 47 percent of employees are minorities – but getting those faces of color into management and ownership roles continues to be a challenge.
 
“We have lots of people of color, but we can’t get them beyond a certain level,” says Gerry Fernandez, president and founder of the Multicultural Foodservice and Hospitality Alliance, an affiliate of the National Restaurant Association.
 
They may own a restaurant, but can’t seem to move into multi-unit ownership, he says. They may be an assistant manager, but can’t envision becoming a restaurant owner.
 
Fernandez wants the industry to sketch out “a clear path to ownership” that shows minorities how to get a stake in the restaurant business and then how to grow their share.

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“We have to understand that ownership applies for every cultural group and the more ownership we have in our industry that is diverse, the better off we are,” he says.
 
Fernandez was among the speakers earlier this week in a coronavirus-inspired webinar hosted by The Food Institute that focused on collaboration along the supply chain. Participating were executives from trade groups representing manufacturers, suppliers and operators.
 
Restaurants took a big hit in the pandemic as they were ordered closed in the early days to contain the spread of COVID-19. The National Restaurant Association calculates lost sales at $145 billion between March and June.
 
The group pegs full-year revenue at $240 billion – way off its pre-Covid projections of $899 billion for 2020.
 
While some in-restaurant dining has returned – with occupancy restrictions and health precautions in place – consumers still are wary, leading to estimates that it could take until 2022 for some kind of “normalcy” to take hold.
 
Fernandez says the pandemic and the anti-racism protests brought on by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis are making the restaurant industry “pivot and deal with things that we haven’t had to deal with before.”
 
Smart restaurateurs are tuning in to their employees and the wider community in which they operate in response, he said.
 
“We all have to take a serious look at how race and structural issues prevent Blacks, other people of color and women from moving into the upper echelons of leadership,” he said.

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Asked at the end of the webinar for a prediction for 2021, Fernandez committed to having an industrywide, written plan in place for improving diversity.
 
He then pointed out to the other five panelists that he was the only person of color participating (there also were no women), and quoted a mentor who liked to say that “If the next time you’re making a major decision and everyone in the room looks like you, you’re doing it wrong.”
 
“So we’ve got to find a way to make sure we have diverse perspectives in when we’re making important decisions, or the outcomes will miss the mark,” he added.
 
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected].

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