Charity Watch: Restaurant and Wine Industries Support Hurricane and Earthquake Victims

Hospitality and winery professionals are pitching in to help those in need in Texas, Florida, Mexico, Puerto Rico and beyond
Charity Watch: Restaurant and Wine Industries Support Hurricane and Earthquake Victims
Union Square Hospitality Group's charity push will benefit the Houston Food Bank. (Paula Murphy)
Sep 26, 2017

Updated October 2

It’s been a devastating month for some parts of the Americas. An unprecedented flurry of deadly hurricanes started at the end of August, when Hurricane Harvey hit southeast Texas, followed by sweeps in Florida and the Caribbean by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico. On Sept. 19, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake shook central Mexico; powerful aftershocks continue to threaten the region. The restaurant and wine industries have been quick to put all hands on deck to help. Here are some highlights from ongoing charitable efforts.

The owners of Commander's Palace in New Orleans are organizing One Night, One Meal, One Nation on Oct. 2 to support the Hurricanes Harvey & Irma Hospitality Employee Relief Fund, in partnership with the Greater New Orleans Foundation and the Louisiana Restaurant Association. The family knows all too well how devastating a hurricane can be, with one part of the family in Louisiana and one part in Houston.

"We New Orleanians will never forget the help we received from the whole nation, but particularly from Houston after Katrina," Commander’s Palace co-owner Ti Martin told Wine Spectator. Her brother Alex Brennan-Martin, who owns Brennan's of Houston, had set up a fund for New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit the area. "The restaurant community of our country rallied and we helped so many," said Brennan-Martin. "Unfortunately now the roles are reversed and we have many we need to help rebuild their lives."

They are still recruiting restaurants for the event. Participating Wine Spectator Restaurant Award winners include Commander's Palace, the Tides in Vero Beach, Fla., and Dante and Lola in Cleveland. Restaurants can be as creative as they want with their Oct. 2 menus and, at their discretion, will donate a percentage of their proceeds to the Relief Fund, which will go toward individual grants for hospitality workers, as well as to Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign, and local school partners in Texas and Florida. Martin hopes to raise $1 million.

Southern Smoke, an initiative by chef Chris Shepherd of Underbelly in Houston, brings together famous chefs from the South for an evening of barbecue, wine and beer. The event typically benefits the Multiple Sclerosis Society, but this year Shepherd has partnered with Legacy Community Health to aid employees of the food and beverage industry who have been affected by Harvey.

Among the big names participating are Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue in Austin, John Besh of his eponymous restaurant group, Ashley Christensen of AC Restaurants in North Carolina, and Justin Yu of the soon-to-open Theodore Rex in Houston. Krug, Failla, Iron Horse and Clos du Val are among the wine sponsors who will be pouring at Southern Smoke. The event will be held Oct. 22; general admission tickets are $200 and VIP tickets $350.

On Sunday, Sept. 24, Houston wine bar Camerata hosted the kick-off party for Wine Above Water, a month-long, wine-focused online auction that will contribute to the Southern Smoke effort. "This event is the perfect example of the collaborative, team-oriented spirit of the Houston beverage industry," said wine director and general manager Chris Poldoian. "We've really been humbled by the number of wineries and importers and suppliers that [donated] premium wine for the event."

Guests at the Sunday event bought $100 tickets and got to sample foods from local Houston restaurants and wines donated by local suppliers. Mayacamas, Hanzell, Cayuse, Domaine Huët, Clos Fourtet and Paolo Scavino were among the many wines on offer.

The party launched the Wine Above Water online auction, which continues until Southern Smoke on Oct. 22. The items on sale include rare and old bottles of wine, vineyard tours and tastings, and all-inclusive trips to wine regions. Some highlights include an 11-course tasting menu at SingleThread Farms for six people, with wine pairings including Dauvissat Chablis, Marc Morey Chassagne-Montrachet and Philipponnat Clos des Goisses Champagne ($14,000 estimated value). Colorado stalwarts Frasca Food & Wine and the Little Nell are offering a multicourse tasting menu for two, with customized wine pairings by Bobby Stuckey and Carlton McCoy, respectively (both $500 estimated value). Paul Hobbs, Chappellet, Williams Selyem and Matthiasson, among others, are contributing private tastings and tours of their wineries.

All of the proceeds from both the event at Camerata and the online auction will contribute toward Southern Smoke's fund-raiser.

Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group is having its own fund-raiser for victims of Hurricane Harvey, in partnership with Tito's Handmade Vodka (a company based in Texas). Every restaurant in the USHG portfolio is offering a Tito's Texas Relief cocktail; the restaurant group will contribute $5 per cocktail, with Tito's matching another $5, for a total of $10 per cocktail donated to the Houston Food Bank. The fund-raiser is running through the month of September, and beverage director John Ragan is expecting to raise upwards of $100,000 for the organization.

"When you're in a situation where you're out of your home, I think just getting those basic needs covered, something like a good meal, can go a long way," Ragan told Wine Spectator. Restaurants were encouraged to be creative with their cocktails, and each venue has a different take on the Tito's Texas Relief. Union Square Café will be serving it with velvet falernum, ginger and bitter lime cordial, while Maialino's rendition is an Italian twist on an Arnold Palmer, with Tito's and amaro. The cocktails range in price depending on the restaurant, from $14 to $20.

Once the September fund-raiser for Texas hurricane victims is over, Ragan said he hopes to make another push for affected areas in Florida and beyond.

When Harvey hit Texas, Honig donated 50 percent of its online wine sales for a week. But as other storms formed, the California winery decided to expand its reach. "When Irma was on its way; fear hit home for me," Stephanie Honig told Wine Spectator. "I went to college in south Florida and have many family and friends there."

Honig will continue to donate 50 percent of its sales through September for victims in Florida, Puerto Rico and the rest of the Caribbean. She also launched #WineSplashForCash, emulating the ALS Association ice-bucket challenge that went viral in the summer of 2014. On Sept. 11, Honig's Facebook page posted a video of Honig getting splashed with red wine, explaining this was to raise funds for areas affected by the hurricanes. After being splashed, she challenged Emma Swain of St. Supéry, Dawn Forman of Tobias and Kathryn Hall of Hall. While every winery can choose who they wish to donate to, Honig will give its funds to Republic National Distributing Company's Relief Fund, for Texas, and United for Puerto Rico; they have yet to determine a recipient for proceeds earmarked for Florida and the Caribbean.

Truchard is owned by two Texas natives, Jo Ann and Tony. Jo Ann's hometown of La Grange was severely affected by Harvey, and from their adopted California home, the family was moved to help the victims. Through the month of September, 50 percent of the winery's after-tax retail wine sales will go to the La Grange Rotary Club.

E. & J. Gallo, the California wine conglomerate, has donated a total of $300,000 to the American Red Cross, $100,000 each to the victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. "Our hearts go out to the millions of people who have suffered tremendous losses due to the 2017 hurricane season," said CEO and president Joseph Gallo in a press release.

Spirits giant Bacardi is pledging $3 million in disaster relief to victims of the devastating hurricanes and earthquakes of the season. The company is designating $2 million to Puerto Rico alone, and the remaining $1 million to Florida, the Caribbean and Mexico. "We hope these donations will help alleviate some of the stress and pain people are experiencing while addressing some of their most basic needs," said chairman Facundo Bacardi in a press release.

Bacardi's rum distillery has been located in Puerto Rico since 1936; the company reported some damage, but have not been able to fully assess the situation. Despite spotty cell-phone service making communications difficult, they have been able to reach many employees, who are reportedly safe. All of their employees in Mexico are safe. A representative for the company confirmed the funds would support Red Cross Mexicana, UNICEF in Mexico and United for Puerto Rico, with more beneficiaries being announced in the coming days.

On top of this seven-figure donation, Bacardi was announced as the presenting sponsor of Tidal X: Brooklyn, a concert organized by Jay-Z's record label, Tidal. Through this partnership, the rum company has committed to an additional $1.3 million in support of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Empire State Relief and Recovery Effort for Puerto Rico. The proceeds will go toward funding cargo planes transporting donated goods to the island. Headliners of the Tidal X: Brooklyn concert include Jay-Z, Jennifer Lopez and DJ Khaled.

Through the month of September, City Winery is donating 50 percent of the sales from their risotto balls to All Hands Volunteers, which is aiding victims from both Harvey and Hurricane Irma.

If you are involved in a restaurant, wine, other alcohol beverage or hospitality business, and are hosting an event, donating a portion of your sales or otherwise supporting a relief project, please contact us for coverage consideration by filling out this form.

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