A series of culinary-clad evenings has done some good for the still-struggling local food and hospitality industry.
Recently, the Buccini/Pollin Group (BPG), Chef Tyler Akin, Mayor Mike Purzycki, and Wilmington’s independent restaurants joined the Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC) on the IRC x Wilmington series, a collection of mission-driven dinners and experiences to benefit neighborhood restaurants and bars across the country, according to a release.
The beginnings of the IRC started back in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted shutdowns globally. During that time, the James Beard foundation conducted a poll about the set-backs, and found that only 20% of independent restaurant owners believed their establishments would survive the pandemic. So, some figures in the Philadelphia restaurant industry decided to band together to help.
Essentially, the IRC was providing efforts on the federal level working with national leaders in our culinary community as well as DC lobbyists. Through different efforts, the group raised awareness in DC to enact small and large changes both locally and beyond.
“We formed a small core group to bring Philadelphia’s interests to the table at the national level with the IRC. The feeder for those concerns is the Philadelphia Hospitality Coalition, and we’re in the process of building that out,” said Akin in a statement to Metro at the time.
“I think ultimately, we had brought bipartisan support of the Restaurant Act…We had co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle, the bill had been introduced by Democrats and Republicans respectively in each chamber. So, we knew that there was a stomach for this program. The issue was really that transition between sessions and not knowing immediately what the Biden administration and the new Democratic senate’s priorities were going to be and how they were going to approach that first big spend.”
Luckily, some help has been given, and those efforts by Akin and the IRC have continued two years later with this new series in Delaware. As a release states, the series ran from December 2021 through March 2022, featuring world-renowned chef talent for one-of-a-kind, collaborative dining experiences between visiting and local chefs. The series ultimately raised $100,000 to benefit the Independent Restaurant Coalition’s mission of supporting independent restaurants nationwide, and the funds were recently presented to the IRC’s Executive Director Erika Polmar via a press conference with all parties.
The series, helmed by Akin brings back the progress to his hometown, although he’s been a fixture in the City of Brotherly Love’s culinary scene for quite some time as well.
Akin has been around the city’s food scene spending years as the sous chef at Zahav, and then shifting to opening the dual concept all-day cafe and Southern Italian eatery Res Ipsa, and both Stock locations in Fishtown and Rittenhouse Square. Although his Philly eateries have since closed their doors, the chef shifted to opening his restaurant at the Hotel Du Pont, which initially had to be put on hold due to the pandemic.
Visiting chefs who participated in the IRC x Wilmington series included Jennifer Carroll, Ashley Christensen, Tom Colicchio, Gregory Gourdet, Niki Russ Federman, and Andrew Zimmern—all of whom came together with local chefs from Bardea, La Fia, Le Cavalier, Stitch House, and Wm. Mulherin’s Sons over a shared interest in seeing restaurants across America thrive.
“Seeing this series come together was something of a dream come true,” said Akin in a statement. “As a board member of the IRC, I’m intimately aware of what $100,000 can do and for that, I am so grateful to the participating chefs who generously shared their time and talent with us; to our sponsors who supported the series; to BPG for believing in this series when it was just an idea; and to all the guests that took time out of their busy lives to dine with us in the name of supporting a larger mission.”
Throughout the series, a large focus for the IRC was getting the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) replenished, a program created with bipartisan support from 90 senators, the release concludes. The Senate ultimately failed to pass funding to replenish the RRF in May, leaving nearly 200,000 restaurants without the financial assistance they desperately need. The IRC continues to explore every possible avenue to give neighborhood restaurants and bars impacted by COVID-19 the relief they need to keep their doors open and keep their teams working – including grants, government relief programs, policy change, business and mental health support.
To learn more about the IRC and the culinary series, visit independentrestaurantcoalition.com