Early voting for this year’s presidential election kicks off in Georgia on Monday, October 12, and a growing number of Atlanta restaurants and food businesses are committing to providing employees paid time off to vote and work the polls or closing on Election Day.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, restaurants, chefs, farmers, bakers, and food producers have found myriad ways to step up for the communities they serve around Atlanta. Neighborhood markets selling pantry staples and household supplies replaced restaurant dining rooms. Chefs and bakers pivoted their kitchens from feeding diners to feeding Atlanta’s underserved communities and out-of-work service industry members. Over the summer, restaurants, bars, and bakeries throughout the city pitched in to provide free meals, water, and other supplies to people protesting police brutality and racial injustice. Two dozen breweries across the state took part in an international fundraiser for social justice.
With the public health crisis likely to drag on into next year, several Atlanta chefs and restaurant owners are actively involved in a national coalition lobbying Congress to pass the RESTAURANTS Act — a $120 billion federal coronavirus stimulus package for the beleaguered industry.
Hospitality has taken on new meaning during the health crisis. And as the country experiences monumental social and economic shifts in ethos, the nation’s restaurant industry now turns its attention to the November election and the impact its 15 million workers could have on the outcome.
Matt Weyandt, co-founder of Krog Street Market-based Xocolatl Small Batch Chocolate, created Staff the Polls 2020 to encourage Atlanta’s restaurant and bar industry owners and employees to become more involved in elections. The initiative asks owners to provide employees with paid time off to vote and work the polls during the November election cycle.
Prior to founding their chocolate business, Weyandt and wife and business partner Elaine Read were activists, and worked with the late congressman John Lewis during his 2012 reelection campaign. Weyandt says he remembers the congressman often speaking to his staff and volunteers about the importance of voting, calling it a “precious, almost sacred” right.
“It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have,” says Weyandt of forming Staff the Polls. “I think we all sometimes think of democracy as this thing that just exists independently of us, but this year made it really clear that democracy doesn’t just happen on its own. It requires us all to work for it and do our part.”
So far, Empire State South, Pancake Social, Root Baking Co., coffee shop Spiller Park, Little Tart Bakeshop, and Ticonderoga Club in Atlanta and Athens restaurant Five and Ten have joined Weyandt in his efforts. The Staff the Polls website also includes links to poll worker applications for Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb, Dekalb, and Athens-Clark counties.
Like Weyandt, restaurant owners Jonathan and Justin Fox of Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q want to encourage their employees to become more politically engaged. The brothers announced on social media last month that they would close the popular Candler Park barbecue restaurant on November 3 in order to allow staff adequate time to vote.
“We are closing for the day, allowing our team a stress-free day to vote or also volunteer at a polling place,” Jonathan Fox tells Eater. “Barbecue is about community, and we feel it is our civic duty to allow our team to participate in their civic duty in this important election.”
The Fox brothers are not alone in closing their restaurant on November 3. Castellucci Hospitality Group also plans to close its seven restaurants throughout Atlanta on Election Day. Asian comfort food pop-up Mushi Ni will shut down its outposts in East Atlanta Village and Westside Provisions District. Victory Brands, the group behind LLoyd’s, Little Trouble, and Victory Sandwich Bar, intends to provide meals for poll workers.
For Steven Hartsock, owner of Socks Love BBQ in Cumming (38 miles north of Atlanta,) closing on Election Day allows his nine employees the time they need to vote. He hopes it signifies the importance of voting and inspires his younger staff members to view the act of voting as a way to individually impact their communities.
“This has been an incredibly difficult year for everyone, but especially for folks in the food industry. We’re small, local businesses that are deeply intertwined with our community and can’t help but be impacted by the events happening around us,” Weyandt says. “It‘s really inspiring to know that with all the other challenges they’re facing, folks in the food industry are still some of the first ones willing to step up and do their part, and I think that’s specifically because we’re all small businesses tied so intimately to our community.”
If your restaurant, bar, bakery, or food business plans to close on Election Day, act as a pick-up location for rides to the polls, or provide meals or other supplies to poll workers during the November election cycle, email Eater Atlanta with the details.
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