The White House announced on April 14 the creation of “economic revival industry groups,” consisting of more than 200 “executives, economists, scholars, and industry leaders” who will serve as a sounding board for the White House’s attempt to reopen the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic. The food and beverage group, notably, is made up almost entirely of executives from major restaurant chains, industry associations, food and drink manufacturers, and a few high-profile chef-restaurateurs.
Honored @realdonaldtrump asked me & @danielboulud @wolfgangpuck @jeangeorges to join @whitehouse Great American Economic Revival Industry Group. Proud to work together towards a strategy where the safety of Americans is top of mind in conjunction towards economic revitalization.— Thomas Keller (@Chef_Keller) April 15, 2020
Behold, the list of such diverse brands and operators as:
- National Restaurant Association interim CEO Marvin Irby
- McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski
- Darden Restaurants (parent company of Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Capital Grille) CEO Gene Lee Jr.
- Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey
- PepsiCo CEO Ramon Laguarta
- Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy
- Subway CEO John Chidsey
- Bloomin’ Brands (parent company of Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill) CEO David Deno
- YUM! Brands (parent company of KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut) CEO David Gibbs
- Papa John’s CEO Rob Lynch
- Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor
- Waffle House CEO Walt Ehmer
- Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson
- Wolfgang Puck
- Thomas Keller
- Jean-Georges Vongerichten
- Daniel Boulud
- M Crowd Restaurant co-founder Ray Washburne (a member of the president’s intelligence advisory board)
- Jimmy John’s founder Jimmy John Liautaud
With these new additions added to the list on April 15:
- Kraft SVP of Corporate & Government Affairs Michael Mullen
- National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors CEO Dirk Van Dongen
- International Franchise Association CEO Robert Cresanti
- Inspire Brands (parent company of Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Sonic, Jimmy John’s) CEO Paul Brown
Overall, the makeup of this industry group doesn’t look too different from the participants in President Trump’s mid-March restaurant industry conference call, which included executives from chains and corporations like McDonald’s USA, Domino’s Pizza, Chick-fil-A, Subway, Papa John’s, Wendy’s, Restaurant Brand International, Bloomin’ Brands, YUM! Brands, Raising Cane’s, and Darden Restaurants.
That call was criticized by restaurateurs for not including one single independent operator. The White House’s answer to that criticism, apparently, was to add four chef-owners — Wolfgang Puck, Thomas Keller, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Daniel Boulud — all known for their backgrounds in French cuisine, their restaurant empires spanning across the country, and their positions in the highest echelons of industry fame, acclaim, and opportunity. They were also, coincidentally, the only known chefs who were able to arrange a call with Trump to discuss restaurant owners’ battle over business-interruption insurance and other effects of COVID-19 on independent restaurants.
It is notable, as some observed on social media, that the White House’s hand-picked representatives of the food and beverage industry — at least, those who agreed to be involved — is nearly devoid of people of color, and entirely devoid of women. (Meanwhile, there are two Dans and two Davids.) Even more pressing is the fact that the interests of the everyday server, the immigrant cook, the independent mom-and-pop restaurant operator — essentially the working class whose labor undergirds the entire business of how consumers get to eat and drink — are damningly absent.
And yet, one must ask, what did we expect? There’s little integrity to be found sniffing around the White House’s ill-advised attempts to restore the economy and some sense of normalcy in a profoundly abnormal time, when one false start could accelerate the spread of the coronavirus and force the country into isolation all over again. Somehow, it makes perfect sense that the leaders advising the president are major chains — who are cashing in on the limited pool of Payroll Protection Program loans meant to help small businesses — and industry kings who are better known for being part of an old-guard generation of dining.
Eater has reached out to all four restaurateurs for comment. This post will be updated with any statements we receive.