It’s no secret that COVID-19 is having a pretty devastating effect on the restaurant industry. According to data collected by Statista from the National Restaurant Association, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the U.S. Census Bureau, the foodservice industry has lost $130 billion in sales between the months of March and October, shed 2.1 million jobs as of this December, and seen over 110,000 restaurants closed permanently or for the long term as a result of the pandemic.
On top of all of the hardships that come with running a service business amidst a (currently worsening) pandemic, chefs and restaurant owners are also having to deal with a customer base that’s living in and reflecting the most overtly divisive political climate in recent American history. For New Orleans chef Jason Goodenough, the toxicity of it all was simply too much.
Goodenough, chef and owner of the acclaimed New Orleans bistro Carrollton Market, announced his departure from the industry on his personal Instagram account, sharing a screenshot that reads, “I am walking away from CM and closing permanently. This is not a financial decision. Instead, now that the stimulus will prop up my staff, I am walking away because my passion for the craft has turned to apathy and my love of serving people has turned into disdain towards them.”
The photo was accompanied by a caption reading #TimeToMoveOn.
Further, Goodenough told NOLA.com, “It’s been so disheartening. It just crushes a chef’s spirit.”
Goodenough’s decision seems to have been, at least in part, motivated by a series of events that first began last month, when the chef received an email from a disgruntled customer who took issue with his restaurant’s pro-BLM display in the Carrollton Market storefront, writing, “We ordered dinner from you Friday. It was delicious. But as we pulled up to your front door… you had a ‘Black Lives Matter’ sign in your window. How offensive!!!! We will never eat at your restaurant again and we will tell all of our friends and neighbors in the Garden District that you support a ‘Marxist Organization.'”
In response, Goodenough set up a fundraiser with Cafe Hope NOLA, a local non-profit offering life skills and service industry training to at-risk youth, and raised $10,000 in the customer’s name (revealed only as “Kenneth S”). Soon after, Goodenough shared his reply to another email from a different customer, who seems to have been complaining about the chef’s response to “Kenneth S,” which contained another lengthy screenshot that was captioned with #ThisShitMakesMeHATEServingPeople.
Chef Goodenough followed up his second viral post with an opinion piece published in Food & Wine entitled, “You Don’t Like My Politics? I Don’t Need Your Business.” The announcement that he’s closing his restaurant offers bold punctuation to this series of events, an illustration of the difficulties that come with having to appease a politically divided customer base and the continued challenges of running an independent, service industry business in a pandemic and politically divisive climate.