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Northeast Ohio pizza chefs banding together to help restaurant industry amid pandemic

Fundraisers aim to help fill gaps in federal pandemic aid
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Posted at 5:05 PM, Jan 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-20 09:45:26-05

CLEVELAND — Pizza chefs from across Ohio have banded together to help the state’s sputtering restaurant industry and those that are employed by it. The ‘Pizza with a Purpose’ campaign from the Ohio Restaurant Association is just one of many efforts currently underway that continue to fill in the gaps left by state and federal relief programs.

Beginning next week on Jan. 25, more than 250 pizza shops around Ohio will donate $1.00 per pepperoni pizza sold to the Ohio Restaurant Employee Relief Fund, which provides grants to restaurant, food service and hospitality employees who are financially impacted by the pandemic. A full list of participating restaurants can be found here.

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Michael LaMarca, the owner of Master Pizza, which has a dozen locations across Greater Cleveland, said participating in the program was a no-brainer.

“A lot of us go through the restaurant industry being mentored by someone before us. It’s a very tight industry,” LaMarca said. “You’ll find a lot of us in the restaurant industry at each other’s places, supporting each other. We bring our families to each other’s places. It’s all about supporting each other.”

According to the Ohio Restaurant Association, more than 80% of restaurant owners surveyed by the advocacy group said their businesses didn’t break even in 2020. Nationally, nearly 375,000 restaurant workers lost their job in December alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ohio’s restaurant industry accounts for 20% of the state’s economy when businesses that support restaurants are included.

"If you like pepperoni pizza, this is you’re calling. [Pizza restaurants are] one of the sectors that has done the best in the restaurant space. They want to give back,” said John Barker, the president of the Ohio Restaurant Association. “The pizza guys are going to benefit from this too. They are are going to be able to sell some product. It’s good for the economy, right? More cheese gets sold. More pepperoni gets sold. More dough gets sold. More drivers get to make tips.”

The struggles of Ohio’s restaurant industry are similar to the challenges facing small businesses in general. According to the US Chamber of Commerce, nearly half of small businesses surveyed believe that they have less than six months before closing their doors in unavoidable.

Seeing the success of similar efforts, notably the Barstool Fund by Barstool Sports, former former North Royalton city councilman Dan Langshaw has launched relief fund for small business owners in his community.

“You can’t rely on government for everything. We’re seeing that now on the federal and state level but also on the local level. It’s one of those things where as community members, you can wait for things to happen or you can do something about it,” Langshaw said. “My hope is that by starting this and organizing this, more people are going to jump on it. This is just a small way to give back to the people that, traditionally, in normal times, we are going to our small businesses to donate to this fundraiser or this good cause but this time they need the help.”

Langshaw said the general public also has a misconception that a majority of small business owners received grants through the Payroll Protection Program last year when that’s simply not the case. “How are these businesses going to survive? How are bars restaurants and retail stores salons going to survive? We have to try,” Langshaw said.

You can see the North Royalton Small Business Relief Fund by clicking here.