Is it a case of “Paralysis Through Analysis”?

Rival factions are beginning to emerge in the Rhode Island Restaurant Industry.

And as a seemingly endless series of “C Suite” meetings occur, with little or no results, the Summer Tourism Season is in jeopardy, as restaurants around the state face critical staffing shortages. The Mother’s Day observance, which many accord a “Black Friday” significance, is a mere 20 or so days away. Irony? The long awaited loosening of Covid restaurant restrictions may have little impact on an industry that must compete with amplified unemployment compensation for staffing.

Meanwhile, a simmering frustration with the overall inaction of State Government & “Big Chamber of Commerce” style organizations is starting to grow into outright anger. Notable among the perceived “No Shows”? The Rhode Island Hospitality Association, led by Dale Venturini (2018 Compensation 270K) and The Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, led by Laurie White (2016 Compensation 266K)

(Compensation Numbers are based on the latest publicly accessible data)

As two models for successful industry intervention & support, The Federal Hill Commerce Association & The Rhode Island Coalition of  Wedding & Event Professionals have emerged into the forefront of Rhody power politics … earning both state wide recognition for their overall industry responsiveness, depicting their respective challenges in an accessible & mature manner … and even more importantly, negotiating valuable compromises with State Agencies the likes of DBR & Commerce Corp … both The Chamber & RIH have little to show publicly for their efforts.

Against that backdrop, a loose coalition of Rhode Island Restaurants have begun to coalesce. Dave Levesque of Brewed Awakenings, one of the public faces of said group, has authored, in collaboration with other restaurant owners, House Bill 6218 (Companion Senate Bill 808) which creates an incentive program for employees to return to the workforce, combining employer wages, stimulus funds with an added retention bonus.

Following a meeting this past week, with Governor McKee, DLT Honcho Matt Weldon and several restaurant owners in attendance, tensions erupted into the open as a result of a series of emails were exchanged.

Dave Levesque issued the following email, serving as a synopsis for the issues discussed:

From: David Levesque <davebrewed@gmail.com>
Date: Thu, Apr 15, 2021, 1:24 PM
Subject: RE: Meeting with the Governor & DLT “Rhode Island Back to Work Incentive”
To:  (redacted)

Hello Team:

Well I have to say thanks to our group last night for a great meeting, and I have to say we all should thank the Governor and Matt Weldon,  DLT Director for taking time out of their schedules to meet with our group. As a group of 13 last night we were united and represent our industry as a whole, and we did a damn good job.

 We drove the point home as to how bad our staffing issues are and that we need the Governor to do what he can to get people back to work and have DLT enforce the rules, policies and procedures so collecting unemployment is not a job. His message also needs to be to the people collecting that it’s time to go back to work. We also pointed out all the ripple effects it’s having such as, over-worked staff, overtime, loss of business, and many other points.

 We drove home the point that as the Governor his message should be “It’s safe to visit and support restaurants now!”

We discussed a much sooner return back to normal with restaurant restrictions and made it pretty clear that bars are not a threat and should be open without all the plastic crap.

There were some issues with the bill we have in play due to current laws so we will have to make some changes, but it looks like with them we may get it through and it will be another tool for us to use and compete with the Fed on the $300 compensation issue. (more to come on changes soon).

 This morning the Governor reached out and gave me the following message and I said I would share with our group so here it is.

 “ It is tough times so no problem with the passion….happy that I was invited to get info first hand…I will be working with Matt today on an unemployment strategy designed to get people back to work at the restaurants and will be working on a Mother’s Day target to reopen as much as possible. Stay safe”

 We did not get everything we wanted but we did get a really good start to fixing the staffing issues, as it is now a priority for the Governor and Matt (DLT). The push to move up the reopening from June to sooner was also a good gain.

 We hope to hear better communication and news related to our industry over the next week or two  or possibly even today on his Thursday press conference.

 Thanks to our team last night for killing it! Craig, Charlie, Kevin, Jarod, Steve, Don, Shane, Rick, Lloyd, Dino, Brian, Anthony, Dan, Bryan

 PS: Never heard back from Dale V. Hospitality Association. I contacted her three times,  left messages and have had no response. How is someone who represents the Hospitality industry silent on one of the most major issues ever in the restaurant industry?  Dale should be representing the entire Hospitality industry during this major crisis, and to not respond to a non-member is unacceptable.  I personally agree with several in our group that the Hospitality Assoc leadership needs to change, and we are up for the challenge!

 Remember we are united and we need to support each other so do not hesitate to reach out for help during these very challenging times. Dave 401-

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In an email obtained by the Coalition, Bob Bacon returns fire, lashing out at Brewed Awakenings Proprietor Dave Levesque :

From: Bob Bacon <Bob@greggsusa.com>
Date: Fri, Apr 16, 2021, 1:48 PM
Subject: RIHA
To: Redacted

Dave:

With all due respect,  Dale Venturini represents the Rhode Island Hospitality Association and its MEMBERS. She and her team have been accomplishing great things throughout the Covid crises, and they have done so with both the support and consent of the Board of Directors of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association on behalf of the Membership. Any RIHA MEMBERS that have taken the time to read the materials they send out and participate in the weekly zoom updates are well aware of these efforts and the results. In fact, in response to the pandemic, RIHA opened up all its membership based communications to all members of the industry, including non-members and everyone is invited to the weekly industry call to receive updates and provide feedback directly.  The RIHA Team works tirelessly to communicate with, and solicit support from, a great number of the individuals that are in positions to influence the direction of the discussions and the results of ALL of the issues that are important to our industry. They communicate their efforts to the Members of RIHA and the industry as a whole.

As an example,  Dale and Sarah have been working with Director Matt Weldon for weeks on the UI problem. The program, Director Weldon, recently presented is a result of their collaboration with input from our current board of directors, who are members, elected by the membership.   It did not materialize simply because you had a meeting  the other night.  It took weeks of input based upon mutually respectful and constructive discussions with Director Weldon’s team.   This strategic, methodical and proven approach is typical of the way our association approaches the issues that affect our industry. The long history of success and the level of respect that RIHA holds within the legislature are testimony to its effectiveness.

We are not trying to minimize your passion nor your effort. We all can contribute in any way we want. But as current, past and future Chairpersons of RIHA and long term Members, we will tell you this, the entire industry, not just the members of RIHA, has benefited from the RIHA Teams’ efforts not just in this pandemic but over the last 30 years due to this consistent, professional, thoughtful, passionate and respectful advocacy strategy. RIHA is a professional well run organization that is well respected not just in this state but nationally as a model for other hospitality associations. We are the Preeminent State Restaurant Association in the country and our national reach directly effectuated many of the restaurant based and restaurant friendly changes for the PPP forgiveness.

In the meantime trying to create discord between RIHA and those in the industry that chose not to be members only works against us all.  If the issues we are working on weren’t so critical to our survival, we would find it humorous that someone who is not a part of our organization is calling for a change in leadership. Under current circumstances, we find it annoying. The last thing RIHA needs is a change in the team that has achieved so much and has done so without blowing their own horn.

Finally, your previous aggressive, rude and hostile treatment of RIHA’s staff resulted in the Board instructing them months ago to no longer take any further calls or communications from you.

We wish you the best of luck with your efforts.

Bob Bacon, Gregg’s Restaurants and Taverns, Past Chairman of the RIHA Board
Brian Casey, Oak Hill Tavern, Past Chairman of the RIHA Board, and Chairman of the National Restaurant Association
Bill Kitislis, Angelo’s Palace Pizza and Antonio’s by the Slice and First Vice Chairman of the RIHA Board
Farouk Rajab, Providence Marriott Hotel and Chairman of the RIHA Board

Where does The State .. The Restaurant Industry .. The People of Rhode Island go from here? Today is April 18. A summer tourism season, that serves as an economic engine for the State, is  mere weeks away.  Moments like these call for bold action. Are we to continue to sacrifice our future in order to appease the ruling class? Education … Infrastructure … and now our Hospitality Industry.

Numerous attempts have been made to contact The Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce. Not a single phone call returned. The Coalition has reached out to the Rhode Island Hospitality Association as well.

 

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