MBA student calls for aid for restaurants, other small businesses

Ben Dalton, MBA ’20, is an 11-year US Army veteran and lives with his wife and two children in Ballwin, Missouri.

Ben Dalton

Last week, in my final semester for an MBA from Olin Business School at Washington University here in St. Louis, I was supposed to be in Barcelona.

Three days before our departure, the trip was cancelled due to the global pandemic of COVID-19. When the class was cancelled, the fantastic staff and faculty at WashU utilized their networks and worked hard to provide an option for those students who needed the class to graduate on time.

Network contacts included Gerard Craft (Niche Food Group), Kevin and Chris Nashan (Peacemaker Lobster & Crab, Sidney Street Café), Chris Kelling (Elmwood) and JiaMin Dierberg (Hermannhof Winery). Charlie Downs and Dave Molina (Sugarfire) as well as Jason Bockman (Strange Donuts) previously prepared students for their trip to Shanghai, China, before the class was cancelled.

Businesses helped students finish coursework

These amazing local restaurateurs and hospitality hosts took time out of their businesses to help us understand what it took to run a business as well as wine distributor operations from different places in the value chain. This class was enjoyable for all students who opted to remain in St. Louis and complete the coursework, thanks largely to those local business owners who brought their expertise to our classroom.

A week later, guidance has been given to close these same businesses due to the global pandemic. Gerard Craft closed all locations (except Cinder House) immediately and complied with the plea for social distancing prior to any mandate, including not allowing pick up or delivery options because it would endanger his staff. Elmwood and Peacemaker dining rooms closed Thursday, and it sounds like pick up orders are still available.

Around the country, hourly workers for large sporting venues are getting help from the professional athletes and ownership. We need the same kind of help from our local community. Our local food scene is getting stronger with every new restaurant, and the community of small businesses seems to support and collaborate to the benefit of many St. Louis people.

Strange Donuts

Last year, I helped write a case study about Strange Donuts as they were supporting WashU with another learning objective and met some of the awesome people that work there as well. These are not people who make tons of money or could not work for a few months. While some of these businesses may be around in a few weeks, the livelihoods of many of their workers will not. Some options available include emergency unemployment benefits, elimination of payroll tax, and rent abatement for impacted workers.

Meanwhile, I hope you’ll contribute to the Gateway Resilience Fund, set up to provide short-term monetary relief to employees and owners of independent bars, restaurants and shops in the St. Louis area affected by closures and other circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Photo: On March 9, Olin MBA students visited the Tin Mill Brewing Company in Hermann.

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