Coronavirus NJ: Restaurants, employees launch fundraisers to stay afloat
It happened overnight.
At least that's how it felt.
When the year began, New Jersey was home to more than 200,000 employees of food services and drinking establishments, according to the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development. They prepared meals, waited and bussed tables, tended bar and managed kitchens and dining rooms, working hard for paychecks and tips.
Then came the coronavirus outbreak, and everything changed.
Restaurateur Tim McLoone, owner of nearly a dozen restaurants across the state, laid off 1,000 employees as eateries were ordered to close their dining rooms. The Smith group, comprising Asbury Park's Porta, Pascal & Sabine, Brickwall Tavern and Little Buddy Hideaway, let go of 600 employees.
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As restaurants began closing their doors, fundraising efforts launched immediately. Some were led by owners who want to provide for employees they reluctantly let go. Others were created by community members who want to see people taken care of.
"I do not work in the food service industry currently," said Casey Deacon of Ship Bottom. "I did when I was in high school and college, and many of my friends do currently, so when this shut down began I had to do something to try and help them."
On March 15, she launched a GoFundMe campaign to benefit food service industry workers on and near Long Beach Island. Her friends work at places like The Old Causeway Steak & Oyster House, The Chicken or the Egg, Hotel LBI, Kubel's and Daddy O. Some have closed for now, others are offering takeout.
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"I know, roughly, what they make, and it’s not enough to have a lot of money saved for situations like this," said Deacon, who works as a project manager for an insurance company. "Many of them are single parents struggling to get by. I just know they’re going to need a lot of help.
"I’ve also tried to help many of them apply for unemployment and other social programs," she said. "I honestly wish I could do more."
Squan Tavern, Manasquan
Joe Bossone admits asking for money isn't easy. But after closing his family's restaurant earlier this month, he turned to customers for help.
On March 18, Bossone, who in October took ownership of the restaurant his parents opened more than 50 years ago, launched a GoFundMe campaign to support his staff.
"We have been in business for decades, and I know that there are very loyal, regular customers of ours that are willing to help this dedicated group that I'm glad to call my extended family," said Bossone, who will use the funds to pay 25 employees. "I told my staff that I would do what I could to help them with lost wages. Unfortunately, I cannot make up all of their lost wages by myself. Every dollar raised here will be forwarded to my servers, bartenders and bus people that rely on tips."
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As of press time, contributors had donated more than $10,000 in amounts ranging from $10 to $1,000. Longtime patron Laurie Lukaszyk, who lives in Manasquan and has dined at Squan Tavern for 20 years, was among them.
"My family and I love everything about Squan Tavern," she wrote upon donating. "They are our neighbors, our friends, and part of what makes living in Manasquan special. We will be there with them when they reopen."
Smith Group, Asbury Park
Porta. Pascal & Sabine. Brickwall Tavern. Little Buddy Hideaway. The Smith restaurant group comprises some of Asbury Park's most popular restaurants, plus others in Jersey City, Philadelphia and Burlington, and its alumni have gone on to open even more.
But no one is immune to effects of the current outbreak, and Smith closed its restaurants in mid-March and laid off its entire company, including corporate staff. None of the restaurants are offering takeout or delivery.
To support its employees, the group created the Smith Employee Relief Fund; the goal is to raise $500,000 to support its 600 employees. And they added a bit of fun to the effort. Those interested can donate at smithrelief.fund or join the SOS Coloring Club, which offers a blank coloring page per $5 donation.
"It’s not perfect — far from it," reads a post on Pascal & Sabine's Facebook page. "It might be crazy (probably is). But it’s coming from a place of love, and it’s our intention to spread the love as far as we can.''
Shore House Bar & Grill, Point Pleasant
The Gullace family is the driving force behind some of the Shore's most popular bars and restaurants.
Frank Gullace and his sons, Chris, Frank and Matt, run The Shore House Bar & Grill in Point Pleasant and Asbury Ale House in Asbury Park. They've owned restaurants in Brielle, Toms River and Ocean Grove, and another Ale House is under construction in Jersey City.
But now, they are asking for help.
"There are some people that have the good fortune to work from home during these difficult times. People in the service industry do not," Frank Gullace wrote on the restaurant's GoFundMe page. "We are doing our best to keep as many people working during shut down as possible, but it is unfortunately not possible to pay everyone the wages they are accustomed to, just to survive. We are asking for your help."
As of press time, the campaign had raised nearly $4,000 of its $10,000 goal.
The family also started a fundraiser for employees of Asbury Ale House.
Asbury Park Virtual Tip Jar
There are nearly 50 bars spread across Asbury Park's 1.6 square miles, and their employees all suddenly found themselves without work.
Colleen Nealon of Neptune was one of them. Previously a Porta bartender and beverage specialist, she quickly organized an online tip jar for service employees based in Asbury Park and the surrounding area. The idea was based on virtual tip jars Nealon noticed in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.
"We're all in the same boat right now," Nealon said. "Some people have side gigs, but even that's hospitality-based."
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The concept is simple: Bartenders and other service industry workers enter their PayPal or Venmo information into a Google form, along with information on where they work. Those data populate a simple Google spreadsheet, titled "AP Tip Bucket List," where patrons can scroll through a list of workers organized alphabetically by venue, and leave a tip of their choosing.
A lifelong Jersey girl, Sarah Griesemer joined the USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey more than 15 years ago. Send restaurant tips to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @jersey.shore.eats.