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'Restaurant roundtables': Ag. Commissioner leading discussions on industry's future

Posted at 2:17 PM, Apr 13, 2021

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — The restaurant business as a whole is at the point where owners are ready for the referee to give the standing eight count. After being hammered by a right hand called COVID-19, they got up, they’re ready to keep battling, but still very groggy.

“We made it through by changing the way we do business. Trying to meet the customers where they are. Making everything available for pick-up,” said Ouita Michel, an owner of seven restaurants across central Kentucky.

On Tuesday morning, Kentucky Department of Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles met with Michel and several others in the restaurant industry to discuss how they’ve been able to survive the pandemic, (Quarles estimated roughly 10,000 restaurants across America were forced to close during the last 13 months). He also discussed their critical role in keeping Kentucky’s farmers above water during this time.

“We are trying to encourage restaurant owners to enroll in our “Kentucky Proud” program,” Quarles said, following the roundtable discussion.

The program encourages consumers to buy local, as well.

"Because chances are you are not only supporting that restaurant, which is oftentimes owned by families, but you’re also supporting a Kentucky farmer, as well,” Quarles continued.

Farmers took a beating too as the virus spread, because the products they raised, grew and harvested, or cultured either weren’t needed at all in some cases, or just not in the same volume.

The five roundtable discussions held across the state over the never several weeks are also about sharing ideas for how to prosper going forward. As we emerge from the grips of this pandemic, some might think twice about that career in the service industry they had been pondering before.

“We need to look at how we’re going to recruit new people into our industry. I think COVID-19 has changed a lot of hearts and minds about whether they want to work in the restaurant industry,” Michel said.

She said losing young talent would be a shame because the service industry has been largely very rewarding for her. It’s just the circumstances of the last year they all could’ve lived without.