OPINION

Fare Share: Eating pizza will serve purpose of supporting restaurant workers

John Barker
Guest columnist

It’s a new year, and pizza still is delicious. 

What isn’t as new and appealing as a piping-hot slice of pizza are the struggles the Ohio restaurant, food-service and hospitality industry is enduring because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and restrictions on businesses.

John Barker is president and CEO of the Ohio Restaurant Association.

That’s why the Ohio Restaurant Association Education Foundation is collaborating with pizza operators and restauranteurs with big hearts on a statewide fundraiser called Pizza with a Purpose to benefit the Ohio Restaurant Employee Relief Fund.

From Jan. 25-31, participating pizza operators across the Buckeye State will donate $1 per pepperoni pizza sold to the fund, which provides grants to restaurant, food-service and hospitality employees financially impacted by the pandemic.

The number of pizzas sold will be tracked, and the individual location that sells the most pizzas will be recognized as “Best Pepperoni Pizza” in Ohio and awarded the coveted “Golden Pizza” slice. Who wouldn’t want that kind of dazzling hardware in a trophy case?

The individual location that sells the most pizzas for Pizza with a Purpose to benefit the Ohio Restaurant Employee Relief Fund from Jan. 25-31 will be recognized as “Best Pepperoni Pizza” in Ohio and awarded the coveted “Golden Pizza” slice, according to the Ohio Restaurant Association.

Currently, over 20 operators and restauranteurs with more than 100 locations total have signed up to participate, including such Columbus favorites as Due Amici, Romeo’s Pizza and Rusty Bucket Restaurant & Tavern. To learn more about the fund and all participating locations, or to donate directly, go to ohiorestaurantsrelief.org.

During the pandemic, the Ohio Restaurant Association has conducted statewide polls about the health of restaurants across the state to assess the devastating impacts of COVID-19 on the industry. Recent poll numbers reveal that at current capacity, 61% of Ohio restaurant operators believe they will be forced to close within nine months, and 82% of respondents did not break even in 2020.

Even with the vaccine's general availability around the corner (or, so we hope), Ohio’s 585,000 restaurant and food-service employees still are struggling to find work due to many furloughs and are in financial distress. Since its launch in April, the relief fund has awarded more than 1,300 grants to use for housing, living and medical expenses, and it has fundraised over $400,000 for employees in need. Pizza with a Purpose is one of the many ways the Ohio Restaurant Association Education Foundation and generous operators are supporting them.

What is the ask of our readers? Order and eat pizza from participating restaurants. A lot of pizza, at least for a week in January.

We know many of you are hoping to adjust your metabolisms and waistbands with new year resolutions, diets and gym memberships. We get it. But by eating as much pepperoni pizza possible at participating Pizza with a Purpose locations, not only will you be supporting local businesses that support employees and their families, you’ll also be investing in the future of our industry that is in dire need of help and support.

And that’s something we can take heart (and stomach) in, one slice at a time.

John Barker is president and CEO of the Ohio Restaurant Association.