CORONAVIRUS: STRONGER TOGETHER

‘Tip Your Server’ Program Offers Relief To Struggling Bar, Restaurant Workers

Apr 2, 2020, 10:25 PM | Updated: Jul 1, 2022, 11:50 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — A sushi restaurant hit by both the coronavirus and last month’s earthquake was one of dozens of eateries and bars selected to receive a grant from Ty Burrell’s “Tip Your Server” campaign, a program designed to offer relief to struggling hospitality workers.

The local business found out they won the grant Thursday.

“Me and my little brother started this business with only the change in our pocket,” said Ammon Chung, co-owner of Five Sushi Brothers which opened about four years ago in Provo.

In January 2019, the Chung brothers expanded with a new location in downtown Salt Lake City.

The location was ideal, right across from hotels and the Salt Palace. Everything seemed to be going well until earlier this year, when concerns surrounding the novel coronavirus prompted events to cancel left and right. The convention center eventually closed, and Five Sushi Brothers lost half of its business.

“It’s been chaotic. We’ve tried to keep everyone calm and we’ve tried to keep calm ourselves,” Chung said.

The subsequent weeks brought a “no dine-in” order, with an added recommendation to stay home as much as possible. And then, when it seemed as though things couldn’t get worse, a 5.7 magnitude earthquake rocked Magna and the surrounding areas, including Salt Lake City.

“My employees were actually already here working and everything and I’m like, ‘oh we should send you home in case there’s structural damage’,” Chung said. “We were afraid because the building’s so old, it might not even be structurally sound.”

That was the day Chung made the difficult call to close and lay off their 30 employees at the Salt Lake City location.

“We’re closing this location indefinitely,” he said. “We don’t want this to happen, but we will probably have to close our doors because of this.”

Many other restaurants and bars in the area had to make the same decision.

“The need is great. The servers that we all see on a regular basis in our favorite restaurants, they don’t have work,” said Dee Brewer, Executive Director of the Downtown Salt Lake City Alliance.

And that’s what moved the Downtown Alliance to get behind Ty Burrell and his “Tip Your Server” program to help Salt Lake City’s hospitality workers.

“Bars and restaurants have been closing their doors due to both, and have been making huge sacrifices to ensure public safety,” Burrell said in a video message, announcing the program. “We’re hoping that it will be some small bit of relief to this vital, but vulnerable part of Salt Lake City’s community.”

Burrell kicked it off with a $100,000 donation. Since then, others have donated, bringing the number up to nearly $180,000, as of Thursday.

“There are other people for whom this is their sole income — and what they pay rent with and what they buy groceries with — and that’s who this was intended for,” Brewer said. “It was very important to the organizers of this that the money go to individuals.”

The restaurants and bars are chosen at random. Each one will receive grants of $500 to be given to five different displaced hospitality employees.

“It will help out a lot,” said Chung, who has become friends with his employees.

He said it’s a glimmer of hope as he and his brother work to keep their business alive during these uncertain times.

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‘Tip Your Server’ Program Offers Relief To Struggling Bar, Restaurant Workers