QSRs survive, help communities thrive, even after '1-2' hurricane punch

| by S.A. Whitehead
QSRs survive, help communities thrive, even after '1-2' hurricane punch

In the wake of yet another region-ravaging hurricane, the cleanup and rebuilding are underway in Florida after Hurricane Irma. Many pizza restaurateurs have started funds and promotions to help with relief efforts for those affected — first by Hurricane Harvey in Texas, and then by Hurricane Irma, mostly in South Florida.

And though the outpouring of support may have been less bountiful after Irma, it's still considerable — though perhaps not as significant as the role restaurants play after a natural disaster.

Of course, the most sensational and extraordinary news surrounding any event always rises to the top. In the case of Hurricane Irma, a good deal of media attention focused on the Jacksonville Pizza Hut manager who allegedly went "rogue" and posted potentially hazardous and certainly harsh employee evacuation and return-to-work mandates as company policy.

Though parent company Yum Brands has still not responded to requests for information by Pizza Marketplace, the company did post a notice on its "Hut Talk" online blog saying that the Jacksonville store manager's memo to employees had nothing to do with Yum policies concerning natural disasters. 

While Yum remained mum this week,the Florida Times-Union reported that the owner of the franchise location, National Pizza Co. head Jim Schwartz, wrote to the publication saying that the store manager's "insensitive instructions" contradict his company's values. He issued a personal apology, saying that the situation "frustrated and embarrassed me, too."

"The criticism was deserved because the message was not considerate of what everyone was facing at the time — fear and uncertainty," he wrote. "It lacked compassion. It lacked care. It lacked all of the core beliefs we value as a company."

But some good did come of it. Schwartz said his company had set up an employee relief fund, while Pizza Hut franchise owners in the hurricane-damaged state are now holding a Sept. 26 fundraiser with every restaurant donate half its sales to benefit disaster relief through United Way of Florida.

Overall, though, relatively little news has crossed the wires concerning relief efforts for victims of Irma compared with the outpouring of donations and other aid after Hurricane Harvey in Texas just two weeks earlier. But that hasn't stopped restaurateurs in Florida from pressing ahead full steam when their communities need them.

"I’m impressed with how many restaurants are serving customers. It’s much appreciated."   

 – Florida emergency responder

Florida media has repeatedly documented this week the sense of normality fostered by restaurant employees and management in the wake of a natural disaster. And much of the credit goes to the commitment of restaurateurs in general to the welfare of their communities. 

Of AC, outlets and ... oh yeah, food!

For instance, southflorida.com, a website reporting on Florida's social and entertainment scene, reports how Tim Petrillo, CEO of the multichain restaurant company, The Restaurant People, worked to get his restaurant business back up and running after the storm hit the Fort Lauderdale area.

Restaurants like those under his leadership play a key role to restore residents' sense of normalcy and hope following the storm, Petrillo said.  

"People absolutely have cabin fever. They’re coming out in droves," he told the newspaper.

Nearby, Southport Raw Bar was also quickly up and open to the crowds. Or, as owner Buddy Sherman in Ft. Lauderdale put it, "It's crazy here!" 

Further north, in Daytona Beach, no-longer-stunned-but-suddenly-really-hungry residents headed en masse to the closest drive-thru, according to a report by Daytona Beach News-Journal. And they were there not only to fill their stomachs, but also to recharge their cell phones and refresh themselves with some much-needed AC in sub-tropical South Florida.  

"They’ve got the air conditioning, the food, they’re allowing us to charge our phones," Felicita Vega said at a Daytona Beach McDonald's. "What else can you ask for?"

At a nearby Little Caesars in Daytona, workers got the shop up and open 30 minutes early the day after the storm ripped through the area, simply because hungry Floridians were already at the door. The district manager for the chain clearly empathized with his waiting customers. 

"You’ve got to eat," Rodney Keatts, told reporters. "If you’re a person without any power, you can’t make any food. I know that because I’m among them. I’m expecting for it to be extremely busy again today."

And if restaurateurs ever wanted a reason to be proud of the work they do and the role they fill in their communities, there may be no better way to sum it up than this remark in the News-Journal from one emergency responder:

"We’ve been from Ormond Beach to Oak Hill," said EMS technician Tom Rovegno. "A lot of places aren’t open, but I’m really surprised at how many have come back to open for people. There are some big lines, but I’m impressed with how many restaurants are serving customers. It’s much appreciated."

Editor's Note: Restaurant-related donations for cleanup and other efforts on behalf of residents affected by hurricanes include a $2 million donation from McDonald's and a $25,000 donation from the Brazilian-American chain Texas de Brazil, whose COO, Salim Asrawi, put out a plea for other restaurants to give, saying, "The cleanup and rebuilding efforts by every community affected by both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma will need incredible support for months to come." 

Topics: Operations Management

S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of Pizzamarketplace.com and QSRweb.com after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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