At any given moment, the future of independent restaurants is bleak at best. The novel coronavirus is raging like wildfire through the population of the U.S., causing states that have allowed restaurants to reopen to rethink their decisions. One of the latest to do so is California, whose governor recently decided to close indoor occupancy for restaurants, wineries, movie theaters, zoos, card rooms and bars. While North Carolina is remaining in an extended phase two, which allows for 50% occupancy indoors for restaurants, it’s unclear what the future holds.
Back in May, North Carolina’s tourism launchpad visitnc.com initiated a campaign to drum up interest and income for restaurants and restaurant workers statewide. “We were looking for ways [to] stay connected and engaged with our fans and followers across social media platforms,” says Allison Schult, director of tourism marketing at Visit NC.
Thus Cook It Forward NC was born.
Drool-worthy content can be found on Instagram with a quick search of #cookitforwardnc. The concept is basic and inclusive: North Carolina chefs post a photo on Instagram of dish that someone else in the culinary community has crafted. They tag the restaurant and the chef, and explain why they love the dish. Then that chef posts a favorite dish from another restaurant, and as the hashtag populates more and more, a very yummy situation snowballs.
Locally, James and Sarah Rushing Doss of Rx Restaurant & Bar have shown local love to Chef Craig Love of Surf House in Carolina Beach. Likewise, Mike Overman, executive chef of South Beach Grill in Wrightsville Beach, celebrated Brad Royal at Seaview Crab Company. All over the state, chefs are celebrating chefs.
“It [shines] a light on our culinary landscape and what makes NC so special: our people and our ability to come together,” says Schult. By taking a moment to highlight someone else’s work, she says it unifies the restaurant industry.
Cook It Forward’s page on the Visit NC website also features a group of eight chefs who have each shared five pantry staples. Southeastern NC darling Vivian Howard is among them. She lists flaky salt, tasty olive oil, garlic confit, lemons and pickled red onion. Schult and the Visit NC team have listened to what travelers in and out of North Carolina are craving in a time of COVID: helping local communities and going out to local restaurants. So they’re working on a way to do both.
Outside of showcasing the state’s multifarious culinary offerings, the other goal is to raise funds for the NC Restaurant Workers Relief Fund. “We wanted to have a purpose-driven initiative,” Schult tells. “It was important for us to help put money into the hands of restaurant workers.”
While #cookitforwardNC has laid semi-dormant since the initial push in May, Schult assures the project is evergreen. There are plans in August to ramp up social media presence with more content, including Instagram live videos.
Another major campaign Visit NC has rolled out is Count On Me NC. A collaboration with NC State University Extension, it encourages businesses in NC to educate themselves and their employees on best practices for safety and sanitation during a global pandemic. Folks traveling to or through NC can visit countonmenc.org and see what businesses have pledged to commit to the safest environment possible for staff and guests. So far, 2,953 businesses have taken the pledge.
The website offers free training for restaurant owners and operators, restaurant front-of-house and back-of-house staff, cleaning, disinfecting and general best practices. All training is free.