25 Mar Tulsa Restaurant Employee Relief Fund
When Mother Road Market was preparing to open to the public, we challenged ourselves to create a place that embodied “the future of the food industry”, and in doing so, we always aimed for inclusivity, diversity and innovation. We have made mistakes and learned valuable lessons along the way, but our biggest test of leadership came recently, with the growing Coronavirus pandemic.
Less than two weeks ago, I was in a weekly meeting, and we were discussing our COVID-19 response strategy. Within hours, it became clear that we couldn’t wait for our Federal or State leaders to tell us what to do. Our leadership team knew the right thing to do was to protect the public health, and even though we were going into a busy weekend, we had to take drastic steps. We removed half the seating, and any silverware or glassware which was public facing, and cancelled our fountain soft drink sales to minimize surfaces which would be touched by multiple people.
Customers were frustrated by the changes, and as the numbers of impacted citizens grew daily, we knew that the changes we had implemented weren’t sufficient to match the growing threat of the COVID-19 Pandemic. With input from our merchants, community leaders and peers, and knowing she had the backing of our entire staff, our CEO Elizabeth Elison made the toughest decision of her professional life, which was to close Mother Road Market to the public on Tuesday, March 17th.
We knew this would have a drastic financial impact on our staff and our merchants and that it would frustrate customers as well, but faced with the guidance from the CDC, we knew it was the right thing to do. Later, that same day, our Mayor asked Tulsa restaurants to close for dine in, and to move to curbside to-go or delivery models. This pivot simply wouldn’t work for Mother Road Market due to our size and number of people needed to be under one roof to operate only the food businesses. We knew we had to close our doors.
Not only was closing the right thing to do for public health and safety, it allowed us and our merchants to repurpose food and packaging for community benefit, and allowed our leadership team to focus on providing short term relief to employees of the many Tulsa restaurants impacted by this crisis. As I saw the news of Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation’s alliance with the Oklahoma Restaurant Association to develop the Tulsa Restaurant Employee Relief Fund, I was reminded why we all do this work. Our DNA is to reduce barriers allowing Tulsans to dream big. And right now, many Tulsans simply dream of paying one more bill or purchasing groceries for one more week. Thanks to my amazing co-workers at LTFF, even that dream is more attainable.
This crisis will pass, and like the other storms we’ve weathered as a community, Tulsa will emerge stronger and more galvanized than ever. I’m grateful for Tulsa, and even more grateful to be a small part of this amazing organization.
Jeff Thompson | Director of Food and Retail Strategy