FIU Chaplin Grant Helps FIU Alumni Give Back

FIU's Hospitality school building at Biscayne Bay Campus.

By: Jordan Coll / Asst. News Director

With the odds stacked against the food industry, many have faced massive job cuts in light of the global pandemic, despite this FIU alumni have used their local businesses to help reach out to their communities during these trying and foreboding times.

“No one had thought it would get to this point,” said former FIU alumni Harry Coleman. 

Harry along with his wife Michelle Coleman are the co-owners of Empanada Harry’s, an all enticing South American Bakery that opened in April 2017.

From Venezuelan family-styled pastries to a soon to open up Smoke & Dough stand featuring barbecue cuisine options the company has managed to maintain itself throughout the quarantine.

People maintaining social distancing while waiting in line at Empanada Harry’s Photo Courtesy: Harry Coleman

“People are not only supporting our empanadas which are what we are popular for but they are also supporting our barbecue Sundays which has increased our sales and keeps our people working,” said Harry.

The FIU Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management along with the partnership of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival have provided a lending hand to restaurants who find themselves at the brinks of financial ruin.

The SOBEWFF & FIU Chaplin School of Hospitality Industry Relief Fund has allowed many businesses such as Harry’s Empanadas to stay afloat in support of local restaurants in South Florida.

“We have been there for them and we feel they have been there for us,” said Harry.

Harry Coleman setting up ribs for Barbecue Sunday Photo Courtesy: Harry Coleman.

The fund had allocated $1 million, which includes an additional donation of $500,000 from the Chaplin School, this had been strictly derived from The Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine proceeds in support of restaurants. 

“In receiving a check of $2,500 we were able to cover 60 percent of one week’s worth of employee salaries,” according to Harry.

“Businesses during this time have to realize you cannot continue doing what you did, there are going to be changes and the people that adapt to these changes are the creative ones that are going to come out of this alive,” said Harry.

Other local businesses such as Misha cupcakes and Jr’s Gourmet Burgers have opened up donation sites for healthcare workers who are at the forefront of COVID-19 placing their lives on the line. 

“Before the stay at home order I thought to myself how is this going to impact our families and our friends,” said Misha Gomez owner of Misha cupcakes.

The site where customers can donate to local health care workers.

Her restaurant has not only brought sweetness to the community but through the generous support of donors, she has been able to give back to the healthcare community through the setup of MishaCupcakesCares on her site.

Using these donations she has been able to distribute over 6,000 cupcakes to several hospitals in South Florida including the Miami Fire rescue station.

Like many local restaurants, she had felt the impact of having to commit to her monthly payments of the store while having to let go of more than half of her staff.

From a full staff of 75 workers, she was only left with three pulling the ropes to keep the business moving forward.

Her expenses range from covering a payroll of $140,000, paying over 30 full-time employees, maintaining a warehouse of $7,600, and covering other basic amenities. 

“We literally scraped by, we would just buy enough to pay,” said Misha.

With very little revenue coming in they were able to apply for relief plans through the Small Business Administration (SBA) receiving $10,000 used to help their employees.

She felt a culmination of emotions as she spoke to several of her friends who also own local businesses encouraging one another through the phone.

“We are in the midst of all the rent issues, making this a little bit uncomfortable. We have been closed, while I understand that they have their financial obligations to whomever their lenders are, I had seven locations that were closed for the entire month of April, which to me seems a bit unjust of a request,” said Misha.

“It’s that feeling of being overwhelmed that I think could either keep you home and unable to move or it’s something that you have to get through and take on small steps every day,” said Misha.

Jr’s Gourmet Burgers, a mom-and-pop restaurant located in Miami Springs has also stepped up in donating to community hospitals by setting up a GoFundMe page in support of health care workers.

Jr’s Burgers GoFundMe page

Owned by both Chef Jesus De la Torre and his wife Heather De la Torre they have been able to work together in giving back to the community.

They had also received support from the Chaplin grant which went directly to their payroll.

“We also have a GoFundMe where we have had people donate and it basically pays for an order in the restaurant to be donated to local front line employees,” said Heather.

With the donations, they have been able to allocate to local nursing homes, South Miami Hospital operating rooms, and various local fire departments. 

Loss of taste is not the only thing COVID-19 has taken away from people but the ability to experience food in a restaurant due to social distancing measures.

 Despite reality, local restaurants such as these are doing what they can to shed some light on these trivial times.

South Miami Hospital nurses receiving from donations Photo Courtesy: Heather De La Torre

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