How a research scientist found happiness on a cooking line is one of those head scratching tales. Ask dozens of culinary and hospitality workers who have benefited, and they will tell you how glad they are that Chef Michael Brotherton ended up on their team.
The Brotherton led COCO Fund was created out of love for the people of the restaurant and hospitality industry. This fund was built as a partnership between independent restaurant owners and grassroots advocates. Many communities are suffering from the effects of COVID-19; those who work in the service industry, who help to keep the economy thriving, are some of the hardest hit.
Brotherton and co-founder Penelope Chester quickly saw that the hospitality professional was going to have an acute need as the restaurants began shuttering. “Immigrants are the backbone of the hospitality industry, making up 22 percent of food service workers in the country,” Brotherton added. “In addition, in this country, 20 percent of cooks and 28 percent of dishwashers are undocumented.”
The COCO Fund team recognized that government help wasn’t coming. “The $2 trillion stimulus bill does not include any funds for undocumented people and immigrants who would otherwise be able to get benefits,” Brotherton added. Restaurant and hospitality workers need help now. The COCO fund has a list of resources and information for anyone who was displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In order to serve this community that so often serves us, we established the COCO Fund to provide rapid relief to hospitality workers that have lost wages or even their jobs as a result of the pandemic,” Brotherton explained. “Specifically, we provide urgent funds to individuals through an application and review process.”
Brotherton, a native of Bergen County, New Jersey, found his passion for cooking from his Grandmother. He would go on to take her creativity and create a business that focuses on ‘ticketed’ dining experiences in which the chef and his team would cook for private parties throughout New York City.
In typical Brotherton style, his restaurant career was launched by showing up. He walked into a neighborhood eatery in Manhattan’s West Village and told the owners of Ardyn on West 8th Street that he was their man. Chef/owners Ryan Lory and Adam Bordonaro took him under their wing and taught Brotherton the business side of running a kitchen.
The trio then had plans in late 2019 to launch a special event/catering business that was delayed by COVID-19. So as with so many restaurateurs facing desperation, they put their own pressures on the back burner to focus on the greater good and needs of their community.
That led to the birth of the COCO Fund in partnership with the March On Foundation, and the Ardyn Restaurant, to establish the COVID Community Fund, or COCO Fund. “The goal is to provide immediate, critical financial support to some of the hardest-hit by COVID-19: our restaurant, event and hospitality industry workers,” Brotherton explained. Servers, hosts, chefs, housekeepers, caterers, event staff, bartenders, bussers, kitchen staff, and baristas are all eligible for the program’s $500 microgrants.
All applications are reviewed and evaluated based on need by a committee of experienced volunteers from the industry. Applicants that demonstrate an urgent need for support in the areas of food, shelter, and healthcare will be served first. The COCO Fund has a diverse board of directors who ensures that 95% of all donations go directly to the people that the fund seeks to serve. Additionally, as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, all financial statements are available to the public.
The COCO Fund has gathered momentum through partnerships with TrueCooks and Spiceology. “TrueCooks large social media following has enabled us to tell our story. That led to a number of applicants from Georgia that quickly grew to a national footprint,” Brotherton added. The COCO Fund has now expanded to make grants in ten states across
The COCO Fund initiative is set to launch a new cocktail to increase awareness and contributions to their efforts. Restaurants will be asked to add the cocktail to their beverage menus and then donate the proceeds of the drink to the fund.
“You need to understand that regardless where you stand politically that there are pockets in this country where the undocumented worker makes up 50% or more of the labor force,” Brotherton concluded. “We are in an industry with very tight margins, rents are high, and it is hard to operate in the margins that are required. It simply doesn’t work without these folks. It is a reality and these people cannot be ignored.”
To learn more about The COCO Fund, visit their website.