7 Restaurant Philanthropists
It’s easy to believe that the only news you ever encounter is bad news, which is a phenomenon known as negativity bias. The concept of negativity bias is a predilection to not only register “bad news,” but to dwell on it. While that has a cumulatively detrimental effect on your mental health, the inverse is equally true: good news makes you feel better. It’s no surprise that there are so many stories of compassion and community in the restaurant business, an industry predicated on service to neighbors near and far. Our list of restaurant philanthropists looks at some of the brightest stars in the industry, people who have helped in big and small ways to make the world a little better. Remember, whether you’re raising funds to help people or just trying to put a smile on someone else’s face, kindness is contagious.
There are few people more worthy of inclusion at the top of our restaurant philanthropists list than Guy Fieri. Fieri got to work at an early age, selling pretzels in grade school. His love for food was fostered in France, where he lived as an exchange student. After opening several successful restaurants, he was given his first television job in 2006, which helped launch him into the public eye. He’s used his fame to create shows like Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, where he travels the country giving a spotlight to smaller operations. His philanthropic work extends beyond his television career, from giving a $5000 tip to weary staff, or raising more money for the restaurant industry than congress, which is work that Fieri continues to pursue.
Like the rest of the illustrious restaurant philanthropists on the list, Chef Edward Lee has no shortage of accomplishments and accolades. The award-winning chef got his start in a traveling circus that led him around the world. In his early twenties, Lee continued his travails to learn about different cuisines and ingredients, which ultimately led him to Louisville, KY. In addition to the restaurants that he opened, he started the LEE Initiative which, is aimed at building community and improving diversity within the industry. The initiative was crucial in helping displaced workers during the pandemic by offering free meals. Last fall, Lee closed his restaurant Milkwood, renaming the space to the McAtee Community Kitchen, which feeds people in food deserts like the west end of Louisville.
During his life, Mike Ilitch worked to make the world around him a better place. Ilitch was the founder and owner of Little Caesar’s and used his wealth to enrich his community. A Detroit, Michigan native, Ilitch was central in the redevelopment of the city, working tirelessly to enhance the local economy whether through moving Little Caesar’s corporate headquarters into the downtown area or via his involvement with various local sports franchises. As restaurant philanthropists go, Ilitch was diligent in his efforts to feed the needy, which he did by forming the Little Caesars Love Kitchen, an operation that fed people displaced by natural disasters. His charitable work includes spearheading organizations like Ilitch Charities for Children and the Little Caesars Veterans Program. Later in life, Ilitch discreetly aided civil rights hero Rosa Parks for years without any public recognition.
Another lose to restaurant philanthropists, Anthony Bourdain was known for his kindness, generosity, and empathy. In addition to raising awareness about food culture’s around the world, Bourdain used his platform to look out for the little guy. On one occasion, he donated a watch he had worn on his travel show for several seasons to charity, to help raise money for 9/11 veterans. He produced a film about food waste to help promote greener, more sustainable initiatives. He was a staunch advocate for LGBTQ rights and helped author Marilyn Hagerty to publish her first book. It seems like everywhere he turned, he found a way to touch the hearts of people in his wake.
Celebrity chef and host Rachael Ray has made a career out of making cooking easy, nutritious, and accessible to everyone. As one of our restaurant philanthropists, Ray has a history of generosity that includes her charitable foundation. Through her work at the Rachael Ray Foundation, Ray focuses on helping feed and educate people, as well as helping various animal rescue organizations. During the pandemic, Ray donated $4 million to COVID-19 relief efforts to help fund food programs. Recently, Ray raised grant money for culinary arts programs at 27 schools nationwide. Her dedication to educating the community on healthy and simple alternatives continues to bear out in her good works.
Carla Hall is no stranger to the world of restaurant philanthropists. Hall had a career that took her from CPA to Parisian model, before returning to the kitchen. After a successful stint on Top Chef, Hall began hosting The Chew, as well as starting her various restaurant operations. Through her successes, she has fought to reduce food insecurity through her work with various organizations focused on the matter. Just before the pandemic, Hall became an ambassador for the 4-H Healthy Habits Program. Her work there leans into her mission to enhance healthy eating initiatives in the communities that might need them the most.
Spanish-American Chef José Andrés is no stranger to hard work. Moving to the U.S. in the late-80’s, Andrés began working in various restaurants in New York City, popularizing small-plate servings before opening up his own operations. As his celebrity status grew, so did his humanitarian efforts. In 2010, Andrés founded the World Central Kitchen, dedicated to helping feed people in areas struck by disaster. Those efforts earned him a National Humanities Medal in 2015. Most recently, Andrés has used his platform to aid and advocate for people displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic. While he has received some harsh criticism for his stance, he leads with empathy to help those most in need.
Restaurant Philanthropists Conclusion
It’s almost certain that we missed someone on this list, which is in and of itself inspirational. It’s reassuring to know that there are more restaurant philanthropists or otherwise humanitarian individuals out there who use their position in the world to try and make it just a little better every day. Is there anyone that should desperately make this list? We’d love to know. Sound off in the comments section below and let us know.
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About the Author
Syd is a content marketing specialist, which are fancy words for writing pretty to tell a good story. He likes writing things about food, drinks, and music. He’s a musician himself, a father of two, and loves his wife a whole lot.