Recent Media
September 17, 2021
How Pandemic Dining Is Affecting Restaurant Workers’ Mental Health
"The industry itself is doing a much better job of talking about mental health and taking it really seriously. We have seen tremendous growth here versus when we first started…
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June 22, 2021
Best of the Best 2021: Southern Smoke Foundation
On a single day in March 2020, the foundation received more than double the number of applications for relief as in all the months after Hurricane Harvey. The following day…
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May 21, 2021
Southern Smoke: From Dinner Fundraiser to Charitable Powerhouse
We closed 2020 as a $10 million + organization. As long as the need is there, we will answer the call. But our true hope is that one day we…
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May 20, 2021
Taste 50 2021: Organizations Making a Difference
Since launching, Southern Smoke Foundation has been providing relief to those in the food and beverage industry when they are in need—most recently during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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March 4, 2021
Chef Chris Shepherd kicks off new Shake Shack collaborations series
In 2017 after Hurricane Harvey, Shepherd said they switched up the initial purpose of the Southern Smoke Foundation to now grant families money through donations for an emergency relief fund…
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February 4, 2021
What's cooking at Houston's smokin' food charity
Southern Smoke evolved into a crisis relief organization after Hurricane Harvey, but the coronavirus pandemic thrust it into the spotlight. Lott explains how the organization has responded to the crisis…
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January 22, 2021
Southern Smoke awards $4.5M to hospitality works since start of pandemic
Chris Shepherd's Southern Smoke Foundation has served several roles since its inception in 2015. It began as a charity to help fight multiple sclerosis, pivoted to help victims of Hurricane…
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January 5, 2021
Are You An Out-Of-Work Restaurant Or Bar Worker? Southern Smoke’s $4 Million Relief Fund Can Help
Despite launching in August, Southern Smoke Foundation leaders say they still have $3.6 million to help restaurant and bar industry workers in Cook County.
Full Article
December 30, 2020
Chef Chris Shepherd Expects Hard Winter for Restaurant Workers
In cities like Chicago, New York, and Boston, which currently don’t allow indoor dining, the impact will be devastating.
Full Article
December 29, 2020
This Organization Created a $4M Fund to Support Chicago’s Restaurant Workers — but $3.6M Remains Unclaimed
“People are saying this [fund] is changing their lives when they didn’t have any hope,” Grueneberg says. “If you need help, take advantage of it. Don’t feel bad you’re applying…
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December 21, 2020
Chris Shepherd On Helping Out Restaurant Workers In Houston, And Beyond
Some days, we were awarding $150,000 a day. People were in such devastation. Fathers who couldn’t afford to take care of their kids, so they had their kids spread out…
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January 1, 2021
The Best Things in Texas, 2021
James Beard Award–winning Houston chef Chris Shepherd turned his nonprofit Southern Smoke organization into a national leader in pandemic relief, raising more than $4 million—and counting—for hard-strapped restaurant industry workers…
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December 7, 2020
Thrillist Local Heroes 2020
If Houston’s hospitality community had a mayor, it’d be Chris Shepherd.
Full Article
December 1, 2020
Chef David Chang on historic "Millionaire" win for Charity
Chef and restaurateur David Chang discusses his historic "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" win. And, what that $1 million prize will do for the Southern Smoke Foundation, which provides…
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October 20, 2020
Southern Smoke Foundation launches $4 Million Emergency Relief Fund for Chicago restaurant workers
“This was a lift in my morale,” he says, choking back tears. “I’m not a man that takes handouts, but I’m a single dad and this was a lifesaver. I’ve…
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October 1, 2020
Southern Hospitality
“Southern Smoke is really important right now for making sure people are being taken care of,” says John deBary, cofounder of the Restaurant Workers Community Foundation. “It’s almost like a…
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October 1, 2020
Houston Chef Chris Shepherd's Southern Smoke Has Raised $3,361,772 for Restaurant Workers in Need Right Now
Out of these dark times, all of this positive momentum for the restaurant industry is pretty incredible. As Shepherd beautifully summed up Southern Smoke's efforts, "We’re all in this together,…
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September 28, 2020
When the Pandemic Hit, these Chefs and Restaurateurs Stepped Up to Serve
“We did not expect to be in this position,” says Shepherd, noting that there is a wait list of applicants. “But there is no end in sight. Three million is…
Full Article
September 25, 2020
Chris Shepherd’s Southern Smoke is a hero to restaurant workers hit by the pandemic
[Caseworker Kim Jordan's] job was to mark the cases that were most urgent, like the single mothers struggling to carry on after losing their jobs. “The difficult part was that…
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August 21, 2020
Houston-based foundation hopes to help local restaurant workers amid COVID-19 pandemic
A Houston-based foundation is about to inject some much-needed hope, and a lot of money, into efforts to help support that community with not only financial grants, but also employment.
Full Article
June 17, 2020
Worldwise: Beloved Houston Chef Chris Shepherd On Making the Perfect Ribs, Montana Dreams, and More
A full-fledged crisis relief organization, Southern Smoke has undoubtedly been hard at work since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, hiring 30 furloughed food and beverage professionals as case workers.
Full Article
June 15, 2020
Chris Shepherd: Using Food for Good and Safely Reopening Restaurants
Dave is joined by Houston chef, restaurateur and Southern Smoke founder Chris Shepherd to discuss channeling cooking into charitable efforts and the inventive ways to ensure safety as dine-in restaurants…
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May 29, 2020
Local restaurateur's nonprofit teams up with mental health organizations to help workers statewide
Houston restaurateur Chris Shepherd's nonprofit, Southern Smoke, has teamed up with the University of Houston and Mental Health America of Greater Houston to provide free treatment for food and beverage…
Full Article
May 27, 2020
Watch how Chris Shepherd and Houston nonprofit take care of their own during COVID-19 crisis
Now the [Emergency Relief] fund is directing its efforts — and assistance — to those affected by the coronavirus crisis. Despite being inundated with statements of need, the fund has…
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May 27, 2020
One Local Program Is Offering Free Mental Health Care for Food and Drink Workers
In a major move to further secure accessibility to health care for people working in the hospitality industry, three organizations Tuesday announced a program that will offer free mental health…
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April 15, 2020
Houston Chef Chris Shepherd Is Helping Restaurant Workers Survive the Coronavirus Crisis—But He’s Worried About His Industry After The Pandemic
"In the restaurant business, workers live week-to-week and paycheck-to-paycheck. This industry is driven by heart, passion, and drive. People in hospitality are usually the first ones who take care of…
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April 14, 2020
Chris Shepherd's Houston hospitality charity receives smokin' $1 million donation
“The big milestones are cool. They don’t matter unless we get everybody taken care of, though.”
Full Article
April 6, 2020
Houston Chef’s Nonprofit Gives More Than $300,000 to Hurting Restaurant Workers
As of Monday [April 6, 2020], chef extraordinaire Chris Shepherd’s Southern Smoke Foundation has distributed, since the start of the pandemic, close to $314,000 to restaurant and bar professionals whose…
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March 27, 2020
Chris Shepherd’s Dream Is That There Will Actually Be Restaurants Left for Workers to Return To
“Somebody having to decide between staying on their medication or buying groceries doesn’t seem right to us. So that’s what we’re helping with,” Shepherd says.
Full Article
March 27, 2020
How to Help Texas Restaurant and Bar Employees During the Pandemic
Since its inception, Southern Smoke has donated more than $1.7 million in relief funds. By the time the coronavirus has run its course, that total will be considerably greater.
Full Article
March 24, 2020
How to Help Restaurant Workers Affected by COVID-19
“The food and beverage industry is not even paycheck-to-paycheck,” says the executive director of the Southern Smoke Foundation. “It’s shift-to-shift.”
Full Article
March 21, 2020
How You Can Help Support Workers in Virus-Stricken Restaurant Industry
Chef Chris Shepherd’s Southern Smoke Emergency Relief Fund ramped up after Hurricane Harvey, providing funds and care for Houston food-and-beverage employees in crisis. In five years, it has raised $1.6…
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March 19, 2020
Southern Smoke Foundation lights a fire to aid food workers
To say there was more financial need than Southern Smoke could provide was “the understatement of the century,” said [executive director Kathryn Lott]. “There’s a huge need for people in…
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March 18, 2020
Your Favorite Bars and Restaurants Are Closing. Here’s How to Help Them Reopen.
Houston chef Chris Shepherd’s nonprofit, Southern Smoke, fundraises year-round for food and beverage workers in crisis. Now they will channel those funds to this, prioritizing those who need help with…
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March 18, 2020
Covid Crisis and the Hospitality Response
It’s heartbreaking to see the very establishments that nourish our bellies and souls and serve as the heart of our communities on the front lines of this crisis. The economic…
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March 16, 2020
Houston’s Southern Smoke Foundation Gears Up to Help the Restaurant Industry During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Crisis isn’t anything new for the Southern Smoke Foundation. Originally founded as a fundraiser to raise money for multiple sclerosis research, the organization shifted its focus to disaster relief in…
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January 16, 2020
Cash Grants Provide a Lifeline for Houston’s 
Restaurant Community
“Originally, Shepherd started the nonprofit foundation to raise funds for multiple sclerosis research after a friend was diagnosed with the disease. But last year, Shepherd knew that servers, cooks, and…
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August 6, 2019
One of the Hottest Tickets in Southern Barbecue
It’s a cause that chefs are eager to support. “Chefs say they’re asked to do festivals all the time, but only a few where they feel like they’re really doing…
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November 1, 2016
Southerners of the Year - Chris Shepherd and the HOUBBQ Collective
“Shepherd and HOUBBQ are turning brisket into a cure.”
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October 1, 2018
Fiery Southern Smoke event raises $425,000
"The country's biggest names in barbecue converged in Houston Sunday, firing up a lot of smoke. And a lot of money."
Full Article
October 23, 2017
Southern Smoke Festival serves up culinary star power, fab fare, and goodwill
"Taken together, this year’s combination of culinary star power, drinks, and entertainment establishes this year’s Southern Smoke as the best one yet."
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November 7, 2016
Why Chris Shepherd's Southern Smoke Fundraiser Is So Awesome
“Not only has Shepherd managed to rally this enviable roster of chefs and entertainment, but he’s also enlisted the help of his entire staff, and seeing the joy on everyone’s…
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Food & Wine is partnering with Southern Smoke Foundation to help raise money for restaurant workers around the country who are in crisis.
Recent Articles
February 22, 2021
Shake Shack Launches Chef Collaborations to Support Regional Food Nonprofits
The series kicks off on March 4 with Houston's Chris Shepherd, owner and executive chef of Underbelly Hospitality, who developed a sandwich with Shake Shack's culinary director Mark Rosati: the…
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November 30, 2020
David Chang Wins $1 Million for Southern Smoke on 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire'
Chang selected the Southern Smoke Foundation, a nonprofit started by Houston-based chef Chris Shepherd, which, in recent years, has supported the hospitality industry during times of crisis and which Food…
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November 10, 2020
New $4 Million Fund Supports Chicago Restaurant Workers
“[Southern Smoke has] been doing great work for years, but kicked it into high gear at a time when the industry needed it the most," said Chicago chef Brian Jupiter,…
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October 20, 2020
This Beer from Two of Texas' Best Chefs Supports Restaurant Workers in Crisis
Originally brewed for Franklin’s annual Hot Luck Festival (which was postponed until next year), Karbach, Franklin, and Hot Luck organizers decided to add a donation element to the beer’s proceeds…
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July 1, 2020
Man on a Mission
“I could have used this fund many times as a young cook. I’ve seen mental breakdowns because of financial need. It takes you into a dark place.”
Full Article
June 17, 2020
The Food & Wine Pro Guide to Mental Health and Sobriety Resources
Through a partnership with Mental Health America of Greater Houston and the University of Houston, Southern Smoke provides free mental healthcare to anyone in the food and beverage industry—and their…
Full Article
May 26, 2020
When Luxury Is Stripped Away, What's Left Is Humanity
“I think that the fact that it came from a restaurant relief source was—it just made me really proud that it exists. I had no idea that there was a…
Full Article
May 15, 2020
A New Orleans Pastry Chef On the Shutdown: 'We Need a Miracle'
"The grant I received from Southern Smoke was a beacon of hope. I was so scared, I was on the internet day and night, researching whatever I could find out…
Full Article
May 15, 2020
Restaurant Workers Don't Have Safety Nets, So This Chef Created One
When Houston chef Chris Shepherd created the Southern Smoke Foundation in 2015, he wanted to help restaurant workers in crisis—namely, those struggling with sudden illness, specifically multiple sclerosis, and who…
Full Article
April 28, 2020
Food & Wine Partners with Southern Smoke Foundation for Nationwide COVID-19 Relief
Today, Food & Wine is partnering with Southern Smoke Foundation to help support those in the food and beverage industry across the country who have been impacted by the pandemic.…
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March 13, 2020
Communal Table Podcast: How Restaurants Are Weathering Coronavirus
During times of crisis, restaurants are there for us. They're where we celebrate, gather, catch-up, connect, and nourish ourselves body, mind, and spirit. At this unprecedented and uncertain moment when…
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September 26, 2018
The 4th Annual Southern Smoke in Houston This Weekend Is Pretty Unmissable
"On Sunday, September 30, the fourth annual Southern Smoke Festival kicks off in Houston, bringing together the country's top chefs to cook, eat, and hang out for some excellent causes.…
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"I am forever grateful to Southern Smoke and Catarina and Kathryn for financially supporting my family during this dark time. Your support definitely gives us the energy to keep moving forward, and to keep fighting for the best future for Jeff! And I pray for the day I can share this amazing letter of support with my brother, to hold his hand and tell him just how much his restaurant family stood up and helped him on a path of recovery. AND my mother is just so relieved! THANK YOU- above and beyond. If I could insert 10 crying emojis I would. You guys are amazing and really do take care of your own!
Grantee from Chicago
"This pandemic has sucked me up and spit me out. I started a whole new life in January 2020. New apartment, new roles with work, added responsibilities, and everything was moving at a rapid pace. Come March 2020, that all came to a dramatic halt. I was furloughed from work, second and third jobs were no longer providing income, and my expenses were piling up beyond belief. "When I reached out to the Southern Smoke Foundation, I was not expecting much. It did not seem like there was any type of support out there in the hospitality world. After reaching out, I was notified and contacted by a case manager. This case manager, Alison, worked diligently with me to help put my case together. She never judged me for the position I was in, and made me feel like a normal person, when many whom I worked with in the past, could not make me feel less. I just got word that I have been accepted for assistance and I am going to be able to pay my rent. Words cannot truly describe how I am feeling or what this means to me. I am forever grateful and indebted to the Southern Smoke team and will be looking to pay it forward in their name the first opportunity I get. I highly suggest anyone in hospitality who has been eaten up by this pandemic, reach out to Southern Smoke! They can change your life when you are least expecting!"
Southern Smoke Grantee
I am deeply grateful and in tears. My heart is full. I don’t know how to explain this feeling I’ve never felt before. I’ve never been helped like this before. Then again I’ve never been in this situation. I feel like I can breathe again. Southern Smoke has given me hope and helped me when I need help the most. Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart! I have so much I want to say how thankful grateful and blessed I feel. This is a very emotional moment for me and I’m at loss for words. God bless you and everyone in Southern Smoke Foundation for helping people like me. Please thank everyone there for me. I would hug all of you if I could.
Restaurant Manager
Plainfield, IL
"Y'all I can't begin to thank Southern Smoke enough for this! It was a lot of paperwork and panic. But this foundation just saved me and my littlest from being homeless NEXT WEEK as well as being able to continue supporting my middle daughter I have 1/2 the time whose dad is also a bartender/ server and out of work. My family is gonna be ok for the next month because of these awesome people and their sponsors. My little daughter and I literally cried tears of joy when I recieved this. THANK YOU SOUTHERN SMOKE! Not all heroes wear capes! (sometimes they wear aprons 😉)"
Danielle Johnson
Server in Sarasota, FL
You have no idea how ELATED I am to receive this news!! I really appreciate you and all of your partners and the donors of Southern Smoke, and a special shoutout to Alison for working with me on my case and being super patient while I gathered all of the necessary information. If there is anything I can do to pay it forward to your organization now or in the future, please let me know. I am currently looking around at my apartment, and my 4 year old son, and feel a sense of relief. We are going to be OKAY. And I hope the same for the future of myself and my fellow service industry workers.
Grantee from Metairie, LA
"Amazing foundation. Super effective and fast to help me and my family in hard times of Covid, when we all were let go from a job at a restaurant that I worked for 7 years. Forever in my heart Veronica Luna and Chris Shepherd, and all hard working people in Southern Smoke. My help news arrived on Easter evening, that foundation people were working hard even on a holiday. You are the best and you are so loved and appreciated."
Grant Recipient
“Words can’t express how much of a blessing Southern Smoke is to our community. I have worked at the same restaurant for 9 years, and in only one day, everything changed so quickly. At first employees were told that we’d only be open for to go’s and deliveries for the next two weeks. Within a few days, it turned into employees being laid off indefinitely and not knowing where to go from there. I applied to Southern Smoke, and I never in a million years thought this would actually happen to me. They accepted my grant! Not only is this helping me out financially with my bills, but it has relieved so much stress for me. Southern Smoke is truly a godsend. I honestly can’t express how grateful I am. It’s amazing how the community has come together and how industry workers are just like one big family. Southern Smoke has given me, and many others, hope. I’m so appreciative of foundations like them. Don’t give up guys! We will make it through this.“
Libby Gerber
Server in Houston, TX
"I don't know what my children and myself would have done this month without this organization. Pre-Corona I had bartended at a great place in South Florida up until this point. I loved my job and made great money, overnight my livelihood vanished. Thank you so much Southern Smoke for the grant you provided me. I am now able to pay my rent and other bills as well as get medications I desperately need. When I come out on the other side of this I will do whatever I can do to pay it forward. This is such a huge blessing you all have gave me. One million thank yous still wouldn't be enough. Y'all are undercover heroes. God bless you. Thank you."
Lily Walker
Bartender in South Florida
"The grant I received from Southern Smoke was a beacon of hope. I was so scared, I was on the internet day and night, researching whatever I could find out about grants and loans. Southern Smoke was the very first one who emailed and said, 'We will help you.' It stopped my breath for a minute, I had to read it over and over again. I used the money to pay the mortgage payment on my building loan."
Patricia-Ann Donohue
Owner, Maple Street Patisserie in New Orleans
“We had a foot of water in our home and we ended up having to get rescued. It was awful and with a 2-year-old baby and my 11-year-old daughter, it was incredibly hard. The whole bottom floor of our home was ruined and we didn’t have flood insurance. We were able to get some help from FEMA but it definitely wasn’t enough to cover what we had. You just don’t realize how much money this is going to be—replacing furniture, walls, cabinets. Southern Smoke was a huge blessing for us. We’re incredibly thankful for this extra support.”
Hayley Coursen
Manager at a Restaurant In Seabrook
“We were like family at Spaghetti Warehouse, from the customers to my co-workers. I was a waiter there and I was being trained to become a manager…The storm seemed like it came out of nowhere and it really destroyed that restaurant. There was no way it was opening any time soon…I got kicked out of my apartment about two weeks after the storm because I couldn’t pay the rent. I heard about Southern Smoke from my mom and she said they were helping out people in the food and beverage industry…To get this money, it’s just incredible. It gives me my independence back, helps me provide for my three girls a little better. It gets me back on my feet and that means a lot…I love the restaurant business, it’s what I’ve done most of my adult life and I want to get back into it. You get the chance to make other people’s day better. That’s a great feeling.”
Omari West-Griffin
Former Waiter at Spaghetti Warehouse Downtown
At the National MS Society, we will do whatever it takes to change the world for people affected by MS. Southern Smoke has come alongside us by being one of the largest MS fundraisers in the country, and together with their foundation we are partnering to accelerate life-changing breakthroughs for people living with MS. From cutting-edge research breakthroughs like the first-ever treatment for progressive MS to life-changing support like wellness programs and MS Navigators who guide and support more than 180,000 people every year – the funds raised through Southern Smoke are truly being put to good use for people affected by MS. Every breakthrough matters for the MS community, and the Southern Smoke Foundation is creating connections that are getting us closer to our ultimate goal – a world free of MS.
Linda Bates, National Multiple Sclerosis Society
President, South Central
I recieved notification that I'm getting a grant. I want to personally thank you for fighting for me. In a world that doesn't care much about people, it matters to me that you do. I'll use the money wisely. I'll keep you updated on my progress.
Grant Recipient
I just received a mail notifying me about the grant. This is incredibly helpful. You are an angel. I want to send you a virtual hug and thank you and the whole team for the incredible job you are doing. God bless you!!
Fernando Cuccorese
Grant Recipient
I was just awarded an amazing grant from Southern Smoke which is literally saving me. I ugly cried for 2 days. It’s not easy to ask for help, and I struggle to even accept help most times. Chris and his staff are truly heroes 😇❤️ I am overwhelmed with gratitude and so very thankful for what he is doing. His team has been amazing.
Server in Chicago
We are shocked and honored by the generosity of the Southern Smoke Foundation. I am so grateful that we had the chance to chat, let alone being awarded! Thank you, thank you, thank you from our entire work family and their families. This will keep us going! We are forever grateful.
Grant Recipient
“It's all a bit overwhelming and incredibly touching. Honestly, I'm at a loss for words. It's so wonderful of him. Not everybody has a friend who could pull off something this amazing. Chris doesn't think small.”
Antonio Gianola
Southern Smoke Honoree and Inspiration
This organization hands down is everything. They spend their everyday lives working to help others. I am one of those "others."They have saved me from a lot since I was furloughed from my job. I never expected someone or some place to help me the way they did. I am truly thankful. This is what life should be about, helping and loving one another. Thank you.
Danielle Coleman
South Carolina
"Without help, there was just no way we were going to come back. It’s been incredible to see this kind of support [from Southern Smoke]. God bless everyone who has encouraged us and believed in us. It means so much.”
Vahid Navissi
Owner, Café Benedicte
“My children and I lost almost everything in the storm. It was beyond devastating. Our house is only a shell of what it once was. We were so grateful to hear what Southern Smoke was doing for the people of Houston. We are blown away be the generosity of this organization. We can't wait to get floors and furniture for our home and replace some of my childrens’ things.”
Kyrie Bross
Bartender at Scout Bar In 
Bay Area
“We pretty much lost everything on our 500 acres with the hurricane. We estimate our total loss at about $400,000. It really devastated us. But the money that we received from Southern Smoke allows us to buy more seeds, replant and restart. We’re very grateful.”
Garrett Gundermann
Owner, Gundermann Acres Farm In Wharton
“We sincerely appreciate this substantial donation to organization’s ongoing program to provide work-gloves to our fishermen. The men and women who provide fish from the Gulf of Mexico are an integral part of the Gulf’s hospitality industry. It is comforting to know that Southern Smoke recognizes we are one family providing the best seafood in the world to our customers.”
Jim Gossen
Gulf Seafood Foundation