CATOOSA – Paul Hood was eating at a Tulsa restaurant Tuesday evening when he got the idea.
That night, as the coronavirus was spreading across Oklahoma, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum ordered the city’s bars and pubs to close immediately. Restaurants, theaters, gyms and other public places were told they had to shutdown by midnight.
Hood said he began thinking about the ripple effect of that closure.
“I wondered what would happen to all the vendors and the employees,” he said. “I know this was going to hurt them.”
Hood was right.
After Bynum ordered Tulsa’s restaurants and pubs closed, Oklahoma City followed suit. And, almost instantly, across the state thousands of restaurant workers lost their jobs because of the spread of the virus. Covid-19 hit Oklahoma’s restaurant industry like a hammer, said Jim Hopper, president and CEO of the Oklahoma Restaurant Association.
“Right now, restaurants are massively struggling,” Hooper said.
That’s where Hood – with his idea – stepped into the breech.
“I wanted to encourage people,” Hood said. “I wanted to encourage them to support their local restaurants.”
To do that, Hood came up with a unique plan – reimburse Oklahomans who order takeout from their favorite restaurant. Using $50,000 of his own funds, Hood said he would cover $25 of any Oklahoman’s restaurant bill.
He said all residents needed to do was email him a receipt from the restaurant that shows the expenditure and contact information and he’ll send them a $25 check. Hood said he started the program this week and, so far, about he’s received about 200 receipts.
“We’re promoting it as much as possible,” he said. He said he hopes to have a little more than 2000 people send him receipts. Hood said a deep understanding of poverty was one of the reasons for starting his program.
“I grew up in Northwestern Oklahoman,” he said. “In my family we still tell stories of eating roadkill. I know what it’s like to be poor.”
Hood said he also understands the fear and concern that Oklahomans in the restaurant industry have. Because he has been successful, he said he wanted to share some of his success.
“In my business there hasn’t been that much impact,” he said. “I think when people are in need, well, we should step up to help.”
With more than 7,000 restaurants and almost 180,000 Oklahomans employed in the industry, the effect of mass shutdowns has been widespread. Hopper, the restaurant association manager, said the ORA has launched a marking campaign designed to support the industry.
Labeled Keep Calm and Carry Out, the campaign encourages people to order takeout food from local restaurants.
“Because we're all in this together, we encourage you to continue supporting your favorite Oklahoma restaurants when they need you most,” a message on the association’s website says.
Hooper said he was grateful for Hood’s effort. “It’s great. We appreciate anything that helps restaurants,” he said.
Cathy Cummings, the owner of Vito’s Restaurante in northwest Oklahoma City said Hood’s idea was a fabulous way to encourage people to support the industry.
“People are very supportive of their restaurants,” she said. “The problem is there are so many of us it’s overwhelming.”
Cummings said Hood’s small program could bring ‘tons of people’ back to restaurants. “It could be a game changer,” she said. “It could be the difference between staying open and closing the doors.”
Skip Copeland, the executive chef at the Rolling Fork Takery in Hochatown, a restaurant at the entrance of Broken Bow Lake in far Southeastern Oklahoma, said he was overwhelmed that a stranger would fight so hard to help save his industry.
“It’s not only generous toward the industry and the people in the industry but it’s a great business idea,” he said. “It could be the catalyst that helps people make an industry transition.”
Right now, Copeland said, it’s difficult for customers to embrace the idea of take-out only from their favorite dine-in restaurants. For those who have been specifically dine-in, converting to take out isn’t easy.
“It could be really significant,” Copeland said. “It’s a really smart way to help people transition from one industry model to another. And it’s incredibly generous of him to use his own money.”
The spread of Covid-19 virus has shut down restaurants, pubs and bars throughout the United States and across the globe. This week the states of California and Pennsylvania are in lockdown and on Friday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered pubs and restaurants in the United Kingdom to close.
Still, for Paul Hood, the idea of paying for 2,000 Oklahomans meals wasn’t so much about industry business models as it was simply about people and his desire to help.
“When times get tough people tend to get negative,” Hood said. “I wanted to change that. I wanted to create some hope and, at the same time, stir the pot a little.”
Persons who want to submit receipts can email their contact info and an image of their receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org