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He told me to “be the voice.”

That’s the response I received a couple of weeks ago when I asked a local chef if there was something I could do to support him and his culinary colleagues during this challenging time. It was awkward for me to even ask the question, as my offer of “support” suddenly seemed scant given the catastrophic toll that the coronavirus is taking on our local restaurant and hospitality scene. 

Southern Arizona chefs, restaurateurs, brewers, winemakers and distillers are like family to me. Heck, they are family. Forget the like. But what does support really look like to a large family when all its members are struggling for survival? How can you meaningfully help them when they’re simultaneously laying off staff and trying to sustain their businesses through creative delivery and to-go programs?

A number of my fellow food journalists have been mining the landscape of restaurants that have upped their take-out games and are regularly reporting on their curbside offerings. These lists have become valuable resources, and the list makers are contributing their own voices in critical ways. But what about mine? How can I “be the voice” when there’s already a multitude of voices that are collectively lifting-up this community in need?

Just as I started to ponder that, I saw a post on Facebook that crystallized my next move. It was an appeal to the local media from another Southern Arizona chef. The post urged food journalists to unify, organize and work together with our colleagues in the larger media space to let our community know about the importance of supporting local eateries.

Not five minutes later, other chefs began to share the post. It quickly crossed the 100-share threshold, and that didn’t count the number of times that the sharers’ posts were shared themselves. I couldn’t help but note the irony that one post about the impact of a virus on local business had gone viral within an hour.

That’s when it became clear to me that my answer to that call was to be the voice. So I spoke up. I said yes to a foodie family that I love. I called several of my media, public relations, influencer, production and industry colleagues to join me on a conference call the next afternoon to discuss options for what we could reasonably and realistically do to respond to this plea. Encouragingly, nearly 20 of them stepped up and called in to share their insights and creative suggestions, with many more offering their support for whatever we ended up doing. 

After logging more than an hour on the call, we signed off with a shared sense of the reasonable and the realistic. We assembled an all-volunteer production team and produced a three-minute video that tells the story we were challenged to tell through the voices of four local chefs. The message? Take out once a week; it doesn’t matter where you spend it, as long as you spend it locally.

You can watch the video online where this article is posted on Inside Tucson Business’ website or by typing in this link: bit.ly/3bMqtdQ

Like that single Facebook post that started this wildfire two weeks ago, perhaps this video will see the same kind of spread. That’s up to you. 

But what about my voice? Hopefully this will be a model for the good that can happen when I simply shut my mouth and let others do the talking. 


Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at mrussell@russellpublic.com. Russell is also the publisher of OnTheMenuLive.com as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.