The Friends of Ridgefield Restaurant and Community Support Fund launched its fundraising effort to help Ridgefield’s local restaurants on February 1st. In three weeks, the fund accrued over $35,000 through GoFundMe donations at the non-profit organization’s website dineridgefield.com and check donations.
Organizer Bob Hebert says, “We are thrilled that Ridgefield residents are giving what they are able to help our restaurants stay afloat during this difficult time. We appreciate each and every contribution.” Bob adds, “The most critical element of this effort is achieving mass participation.”
Today the group is launching “The 7-Day $100k Challenge” campaign aspiring to reach a total of $100k total donations by March 1st. Co-organizer Frank Alvarez says, “We want to reach this goal so we have a comfortable amount of seed money to immediately fuel several initiatives including grants to off-set COVID-19 expenses and support revitalization strategies/efforts. With the one-week goal, we hope to inspire widespread community engagement through mass information sharing and crowdsourcing.”
Team member Sebastian D’Acunto explains, “If two-thirds of all Ridgefield households, which would be 6,000 households, can make an average $50 contribution, assuming that some give less and others give more, we could raise several hundred thousand dollars that could have a critical and immediate impact on the town.”
Led by Phil Del Giudice, the Friends of Ridgefield Restaurant Outreach team members have been contacting local restaurants to gather feedback and assess needs in the community. So far, the group has reached out to over 50 in-town restaurants. Team member, Marshall O’Deen, explains, “We’ve been talking with owners and to determine which restaurants are in greatest need of help and which ones are doing okay. Some restaurants are in “triage” mode; just trying to keep their doors open in hopes they can get back on their feet in the spring.”
Restaurant co-owner of Gyro on Pita and Dimitri’s Diner, Kostas Mavridis, shared his experience over the last year of the pandemic. The combined restaurants’ earnings are down close to 45% for the year, with the most significant deficits occurring at the beginning of the pandemic, March through May, and then again in mid-November through the present. “Gyro on Pita is down overall but surviving due to a regular take-out business. But, Dimitri’s has taken a catastrophic hit because 70-80% of its pre-pandemic business was driven by dine-in patronage,” said Kostas.
Many local restaurants are currently operating in debt. While PPP loans used for payroll protection have been forgiven, the SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan, used for rent and utility payments, has not.
Kostas has had to take steps to preserve the businesses and keep all of his employees. “For me, it’s important not to let any of my employees go. Instead, I’ve shortened our operating hours, reduced all employee and owners’ shift hours, and we’ve all taken pay cuts,” he said.
Asked what Ridgefielders can do to help, Kostas explains that buying gift cards for future use, ordering take-out directly on their website rather than using third parties like Uber and DoorDash (which charge 30%), and adding tips to take-out orders for the waitstaff are the three most helpful actions. “My waitstaff has not only lost shift hours, but the loss of tips has been most detrimental to their paychecks and livelihoods.” Kostas concludes, “We are very grateful for the support of the Ridgefield community and any donations they may be able to make to our restaurants and local industry.”
All donations to the fundraiser, large and small, are impactful and appreciated. Donors will be able to make tax-deductible donations (in any amount) online via the website at dineridgefield.com. Donors can also send checks (made out to Friends of Ridgefield -Restaurant & Community Support Fund) to Friends of Ridgefield Restaurant Fund, Attn: Bob Hebert, 400 Main Street, Ridgefield, CT 06877.
Residents can follow the Facebook page, “Friends of Ridgefield Restaurants,” to stay connected and up-to-date and visit the website dineridgefield.com to find out more about participating restaurants, initiatives, and offers.