Rick Bayless and the Fight to Save Independent Restaurants

Interview by Billy Shore

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

What will happen to our neighborhoods if independent restaurants do not survive the pandemic? Chicago’s award-winning chef and Mexico: One Plate at a Time host Rick Bayless joins Debbie and Billy Shore to talk about the struggle to survive for independent restaurants. “If we don’t get some assistance, I’m afraid we’re going to see our neighborhoods just devastated. They are going to lose their character. Restaurants are a major part of our culture,” explains Bayless about the urgent need for restaurant stabilization legislation. “Independent restaurants have never had any representation in Washington and yet we are the second largest employer in the United States. 11 million people that work in restaurants in the United States.”

Bayless was is well-known for his support of underserved communities in Chicago. “My eyes have been opened… around Black Lives Matter and the inequities in our own community. We have been talking to a lot of chefs around Chicago about how we can promote enterprises that support the restaurant industry that are black-owned.” He was also one of the first chefs to support Share Our Strength 35 years ago. “I’ve always lived by the motto that I want to make this place better than when we arrived here, and [Share Our Strength and the No Kid Hungry Campaign] gave us all the tools that we needed to do that,” Bayless says.

Join us for this energizing conversation about the current and future states of the restaurant industry with a chef who continues to do the important work in his community.

Resources and Mentions:

Rick Bayless

Rick Bayless

  • Rick Bayless is the host of the highly rated PBS series Mexico: One Plate at a Time and winner of Bravo Channel’s Top Chef Masters. Bayless has earned two James Beard Foundation Awards for Outstanding Restaurant. The casual Frontera Grill won in 2007 and the 4-star Topolobampo won in 2017 — an unprecedented feat for side-by-side restaurants. He also opened the wildly popular, LEED GOLD-certified, fast-casual Xoco in 2009. In 2018, Rick and his daughter Lanie opened Bar Sótano, a speakeasy-style mezcal bar with modern Mexican bar food. He also has three other restaurants—Tortazo, Tortas Frontera and Frontera Cocina. Bayless has nine cookbooks. His second book, Mexican Kitchen, won the Julia Child IACP cookbook of the year award in 1996, and his fourth book, Mexico–One Plate at a Time won the James Beard Best International Cookbook of the Year award in 2001. Bayless and his staff established the Frontera Farmer Foundation in 2003 to support small Midwestern farms. To date, the Foundation has awarded nearly 200 grants totaling nearly $2 million. In 2007, Bayless and his team launched the Frontera Scholarship, a full tuition scholarship that sends a Mexican-American Chicago Public School student to Kendall College to study culinary arts. In 2007 he was awarded the Humanitarian of the Year by the International Association of Culinary Professionals for his many philanthropic endeavors. The Government of Mexico has bestowed on Rick the Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagle–the highest decoration bestowed on foreigners whose work has benefitted Mexico and its people. In 2016, he earned the Julia Child Foundation Award, a prestigious honor given to “an individual who has made a profound and significant impact on the way America cooks, eats and drinks.”

The Frontera Farmer Foundation

The Frontera Farmer Foundation was established in 2003. It is committed to promoting small, sustainable farms serving the Chicago area by providing them with capital development grants. The Foundation envisions a year-round interchange between sustainable farmers and consumers, including farmers’ market patrons and chefs, in which seasonal local agriculture provides the foundation for sustainable regional cuisine.