"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 everyone else in a crisis, but right now we’re hurting. How can restaurant workers and owners pay taxes, rent, and utilities with no income coming in?We don’t have time for pride. There’s two scenarios: living and not living. You gotta live. Let’s go."
Houston Chef Chris Shepherd Is Helping Restaurant Workers Survive the Coronavirus Crisis—But He’s Worried About His Industry After The Pandemic
“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 bussers would be uniquely vulnerable in the aftermath of Harvey, and decided to donate Southern Smoke’s proceeds directly to service industry professionals impacted by the storm. The organization set an aggressive fundraising goal of $500,000, and on the day of the event in October, announced that Southern Smoke had exceeded its goal by $1,000.”
Cash Grants Provide a 
Lifeline for Houston’s 
Restaurant Community
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 medical bills first and foremost.
Your Favorite Bars and Restaurants Are Closing. Here’s How to Help Them Reopen.
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 impact is devastating. There are over 15.6 million people employed in the industry taking home over $300B in wages each year. In this episode: David Helbraun & Lee Jacobs of Helbraun Levy, Jill Tyler of Tail Up Goat, and Chris Shepherd of Underbelly Hospitality and Southern Smoke.
Covid Crisis and the Hospitality Response
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 any kind of crisis. And when you work shift to shift — there’s just no safety net there for many of them.”
Southern Smoke Foundation lights a fire to aid food workers
“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.
Chris Shepherd’s Dream Is That There Will Actually Be Restaurants Left for Workers to Return To
“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.”
How to Help Restaurant Workers Affected by COVID-19
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.
How to Help Texas Restaurant and Bar Employees During the Pandemic
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 million. In the face of the coronavirus crisis, Southern Smoke is expanding efforts to help people who have applied from out of state; in just 24 hours it received more than 900 requests
How You Can Help Support Workers in Virus-Stricken Restaurant Industry
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 2017 in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Following the storm, Southern Smoke donated more than $500,000 to hospitality industry professionals in need, and now keeps its Emergency Relief Fund open year-round to help people in the industry pay for everything from rent to essential medications.
Houston’s Southern Smoke Foundation Gears Up to Help the Restaurant Industry During the Coronavirus Pandemic
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 lives have been upended by COVID-19. That is 161 COVID-19 grants, out of 15,104 recent applications, issued with more than $93,000 of that going out already in April.
Houston Chef’s Nonprofit Gives More Than $300,000 to Hurting Restaurant Workers
“Shepherd and HOUBBQ are turning brisket into a cure.”
Southerners of the Year - Chris Shepherd and the HOUBBQ Collective
“The big milestones are cool. They don’t matter unless we get everybody taken care of, though.”
Chris Shepherd's Houston hospitality charity receives smokin' $1 million donation
"The country's biggest names in barbecue converged in Houston Sunday, firing up a lot of smoke. And a lot of money."
Fiery Southern Smoke event raises $425,000
"Taken together, this year’s combination of culinary star power, drinks, and entertainment establishes this year’s Southern Smoke as the best one yet."
Southern Smoke Festival serves up culinary star power, fab fare, and goodwill
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 this much good,” Shepherd says. “It’s one of the most moving, emotional, joyous days of the year.”
One of the Hottest Tickets in Southern Barbecue
“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 face is one of the best parts for Shepherd. ‘We’re a restaurant with a greater purpose,’ he says.”
Why Chris Shepherd's Southern Smoke Fundraiser Is So Awesome
Food & Wine is partnering with Southern Smoke Foundation to help raise money for restaurant workers around the country who are in crisis.
Recent Articles
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.…
Full Article
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…
Full Article
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.…
Full Article
"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
“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
“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
“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
"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
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
“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