Several locally owned companies have banded together to help inject cash into struggling Bakersfield restaurants and are challenging others to do the same.
In the year of coronavirus, when Christmas parties are a no-go and the typical gift baskets and logo-emblazoned tchotchkes given as presents seem to have lost their luster, the companies are reallocating that money into buying thousands of dollars in gift cards from local restaurants to give as gifts to vendors, employees and customers.
So far, an estimated $50,000 has been spent on the effort, possibly more since no one is officially keeping track.
“The idea was we wanted to do a local stimulus,” said Tim Sullivan Jr., vice president of business operations at Sullivan Petroleum, a fuel distribution company that
also owns Sully’s gas stations.
Sullivan unofficially kicked off the trend to support local restaurants when his company purchased $14,000 in gift cards from seven local eateries earlier this month.
“I wanted to help challenge the community to really turn inward and help support all the people here that make Bakersfield the place it is,” said Sullivan, 35. “The reason this town is so great is we’re very generous, we’re very community-minded and when things happen, we look for ways to help each other.”
When word got out about the gift card purchase, LANPRO Systems CEO Chris McGlasson messaged the company’s management team, saying he wanted to do the same and asked for input on which restaurants to buy from.
One of the recipients, LANPRO account manager Robert McDonald, a self-described foodie who previously worked in local restaurants, said he started to think about ways to keep the generosity flowing. He remembered the ice bucket challenge several years ago, in which people posted videos of a bucket of ice water being dumped on them in order to raise money for research on the disease ALS. A person would challenge a friend or colleague to do the same and the campaign raised more than $100 million, according to the ALS Association.
On Monday morning, McDonald and his colleagues at the IT services company came up with a plan to film the gift card purchases and post them to social media under the hashtag PlatesofBakersfield, a riff on the title of the famous “Streets of Bakersfield” song popularized by Buck Owens.
“We just wanted to have some fun and spread some cheer around Bakersfield,” said McDonald.
Mexicali manager Ruben Padilla said LANPRO’s purchase helped boost staff morale after they learned just a couple days earlier of the death of a longtime Mexicali employee from COVID-19.
Leonard Lomas, who worked at the restaurant since 1977, had recently taken a few days off, Padilla said. Then staff heard he developed a fever and later was being treated in the ICU. Last Sunday night, the restaurant management gathered the staff together and announced his passing, causing some to openly weep, Padilla said.
To raise awareness and encourage others to follow suit, local companies have posted videos on social media of their visits to restaurants to purchase the gift cards. Among the beneficiaries so far are Luigi’s Restaurant and Delicatessen, Wool Growers, Mexicali, KC Steakhouse, Salty’s BBQ & Catering, Benji’s French Basque Restaurant, Moo Creamery, Kan Pai, Wiki’s Wine Dive & Grill, and NV Catering.
“Restaurants and these sort of establishments are the cultural backbone of our city,” said Jim Damian, who, along with business partners Scott Garrison and Rory Banks, owns Stria, a local outsourcing firm with an emphasis on digital transformation.
“We also feel for our fellow entrepreneurs,” Damian said.
Stria has seen a slight uptick in business during the pandemic, since many businesses and organizations have had to make many previous paper processes digital during the pandemic.
Other business owners also expressed a desire to give out of gratitude that their business is doing OK.
“We didn’t get burnt and they did and we can help,” said Mark Carroll, owner of Carpet Outlet Plus, one of the participating companies.
“I hope a whole bunch more people go out and do it,” Carroll said, “so these guys can have a good finish to an otherwise tough year.”
In a video of LANPRO CEO McGlassen arriving at Wool Growers to buy gift cards, the restaurant’s third-generation co-owner, Christiane Camou, spoke through tears, telling McGlassen about the difficulties of keeping the restaurant, started by her grandmother, going during the pandemic.
“Today’s been a rough day,” she said. “This makes a big difference.”