This Year’s Southern Smoke Helps Houston Hospitality Pros Affected By Harvey—Updated
Over the past two years, the Southern Smoke fundraiser organized by the HOUBBQ Collective (Chris Shepherd of Underbelly, Ryan Pera of Coltivare, Justin Yu of Better Luck Tomorrow and The Pass & Provision’s Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan) has raised almost half a million dollars for the Multiple Sclerosis Society.
However, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, this year the event will benefit Houston’s own restaurant and bar community. Flooding shut down many of these businesses for days—right when the rent was due, no less. In addition, most employees are paid by the hour, and not working means no income.
Tickets for Southern Smoke are on sale now. Donations can also be sent with via cell phone. Text SouthernSmoke4Harvey to 243725 to donate.
According to Shepherd’s business partner, Kevin Floyd of The Hay Merchant, the magnitude of Hurricane Harvey’s impact hit home when they struggled to reopen their own businesses, which include One Fifth and Underbelly. Employees, trapped by floodwaters, could not get to work. While waiting to get up and running again, Shepherd provided meals to firehouses and hospitals. Once enough employees could make it to work, they joined forces to get one business out of the three reopened. “We had to pay payroll. We had to pay rent and all that other stuff,” said Floyd. “We were really fortunate in that we have three businesses, so we were able to draw staff from Underbelly and One Fifth just to open The Hay Merchant.”
It’s not a stretch for Southern Smoke to help Houston’s restaurant and bar professionals—one of them was the original inspiration. The fundraiser started after Houston sommelier Antonio Gianola—who worked for Shepherd at long-closed Catalan—was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Every year, Southern Smoke is a vast event manned by culinary stars from all over the country. This year features Austin’s Aaron Franklin (Franklin Barbecue, which recently suffered fire damage); Charleston’s Rodney Scott (Rodney Scott’s BBQ), Mike Lata and Jason Stanhope (FIG); Raleigh, NC’s Ashley Christensen (Poole’s Diner, Death & Taxes); and New Orleans’ John Besh (Restaurant August, Lüke) who is opening his own Houston restaurant, Eunice, with chef-partner Drake Leonards. Floyd also said more “big names” may be announced soon.
In addition, Blacksmith and Hay Merchant will offer indoor lounges for VIP ticket holders, serving premium wines (Miner, Failla and Krug announced so far) and cocktails from Knob Creek. This is the first year that liquor will be served, since The Hay Merchant and Underbelly now have the appropriate licenses.
The fundraising goal for Southern Smoke this year is $500,000. That number sounds staggering, but past history indicates that it may be achievable. “Last year, we raised $280,000,” says Floyd. “The year before that we raised over $180,000. We made a $100,000 jump from year one to year two. I think it’s completely possible based on what the event can handle that we can do a million, but I don’t know if we’re going to see that level of ticket sales.”
According to Floyd, in order to distribute funds to individuals, non-profit organization Southern Smoke needed to partner with another organization that had the right kind of 501(c)3. (Southern Smoke’s 501(c)3 allows it to make payments to other non-profits, but not to individuals.) Neighboring Montrose charity Legacy Community Health has agreed to handle that part of the work. As of this writing, the grant application is currently under review. Details on how to apply will be revealed soon.
Update, 9/21/2017, 2:49 p.m.: Southern Smoke grant applications are now available online. The broad category of individuals eligible to apply include culinary professionals, beverage professionals, food or beverage business owners, and industry suppliers including ranchers and farmers.
All applications will be processed by verification volunteers before being forwarded to a separate award committee. (The award committee will not, however, receive personally identifiable information.) The Awards Committee vote for who will receive grants, which will be awarded in $1000 increments. No recipient will get more than $10,000.00 and all funds granted are subject to taxes. Anyone who had flood insurance between August 25 and 29 is not eligible. The deadline to apply is October 23, 2017.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.