According to the National Restaurant Association, more than 110,000 restaurants across the country have closed temporarily or for good as a result of the pandemic. One Wisconsin restaurant owner is well aware of the effects the pandemic has had on the restaurants in his community and he decided to help. He is using his own money to help other struggling local restaurants. Adolfo Melendez, owner of a Tex-Mex restaurant El Mezcal in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, has bought more than $2,000 in gift cards to restaurants in his community to raffle off to his customers. “If you help one person and another person helps another-that will help a lot. There’s probably 35% of the restaurants that keep struggling here.”
Melendez said he got the idea to help his fellow restaurant owners after a local realtor company helped his restaurant at the beginning of the pandemic. “They did something where people voted for their favorite restaurant and I got second place so they bought $300 in gift cards from me,” he said. “Right after that I was like I’ll probably do something similar.”
Melendez opened his restaurant just weeks before the pandemic hit so he felt first hand, the devastating effects of the pandemic grinding the restaurant industry to a complete halt. Despite a harsh beginning for his restaurant, the one generous act of another local business sparked his determination to pay it forward when he was able to. He said it’s important to help keep small businesses open during the pandemic because they are the staples of the community. “That’s part of what keeps us alive. You can go to Applebee’s, or you can go to Pizza Hut but it isn’t the same like when you go to this little diner or pizza joint. The whole idea is just to give other opportunities. I think it’s important to support a small business, that’s what makes this little town so strong, you know? Because big companies come and go.”
At the end of 2020, he began to buy gift cards from local restaurants in his community and raffling them off to customers on his restaurant’s Facebook page. Winners received $20 gift card to a local restaurant. The receiving restaurants said they were thankful for Melendez’s generosity and they know that surviving the pandemic means working together. One owner, Pete Ananiadis of Olympia Family Restaurant said “It’s a smart idea, we appreciate what he has done for our community. In these Covid times, it’s very important to eat local, small mom and pop shops. He understands that, and for all of us right now it’s a tough time.”
Selling gift cards and offering food for take-out have been some of the only ways local mom-and-pop restaurants have been able stay in business throughout the past year as the pandemic has limited their opportunities. Even one gift card purchase can help the restaurant and the recipient push through another day of this pandemic. Imagine the effect if others pay it forward and keep this kindness going. Small acts of kindness like this is how communities support each other and get through a crisis. As for Melendez, he plans to have two more gift card giveaways on his restaurants Facebook page because he isn’t done inspiring others that they can help too.