In the aftermath of the massive earthquake that rocked Haiti on January 12, the restaurant industry has responded with various fundraising initiatives to help the devastated Caribbean island nation.

The destruction was “unimaginable,” in the words of Haitian President René Préval, whose presidential palace lay in ruins after an early-morning earthquake that may have killed as many as 200,000 people. The earthquake razed large sections of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, burying countless bodies in the wreckage of collapsed buildings.

As the images of devastation flooded television sets across the globe, U.S. restaurants large and small sprang to action. Two days after the earthquake, McDonald’s announced a $500,000 donation to be matched by Arcos Dorados, the company that operates nearly 1,700 McDonald’s locations in Latin America.

Yum! Brands, parent company of KFC and Taco Bell with 36,000 locations worldwide, announced it was directing $500,000 from its World Hunger Relief fund to provide food for the victims. Similarly, Burger King’s charitable arm, the Have It Your Way Foundation, donated $50,000 to the American Red Cross for disaster relief in Haiti.

"Although we don't operate Burger King restaurants in Haiti, [our] global headquarters is based in Miami, which is home to one of the largest Haitian communities outside of the island,” Anne Chwat, president of the foundation, said in a press release. “The people of Haiti are suffering and many of our employees, franchisees, guests, and their families have also been significantly impacted.”

While the big chains responded with generous donations, many smaller restaurants around the country are also doing their part. All three locations of Pi Pizzeria in St. Louis donated 10 percent of their gross sales on January 13—one day after the earthquake—to Mercy Corps’ relief efforts. Less than a week later, on January 19, Pi Pizzeria donated another 20 percent of its gross profits. The restaurant raised about $10,000 between the two nights, according to owner Chris Sommers.

“It’s the least I can do,” says Sommers, whose restaurants have managed to thrive during the recession. “We’re earning a lot of money. There are a lot of restaurants that are barely holding on. So it was a no-brainer for us.”

In Toledo, Ohio, Prestige Café donated a portion of its proceeds on January 18 to the Red Cross, which sent representatives to the restaurant with collection buckets. Less than two months after its grand opening, the restaurant raised about $500, according to co-owner Jake Graham. He says the sight of suffering Haitian children persuaded him to act.

“Honestly, Haiti has never come out in conversation in my life, but when I saw personally the kids wounded and burned—that really got to me,” Graham says.

The restaurant industry is contributing more than dollars, though. Lime Fresh Mexican Grill donated 500 cases of water and organized drop-off points for food, water, clothing, and other supplies at its five South Florida locations.

Celebrity chef Tyler Florence and business partner Max MacKenzie donated about 54,000 pounds of organic Sprout Baby Food to Haiti through AmericaCares. Florence announced the donation on Twitter, which, along with Facebook and other social media sites, has helped spread the word about the restaurant industry’s various fundraising efforts.

Despite the outpouring of support, financial and otherwise, Haiti is a long way from recovery. But with many restaurants still organizing relief efforts, the industry seems committed to doing what it can.

“I think it’s an amazing opportunity to help out,” says Jon Morris, manager at one of three Beach BBQ Pit locations in Orange County, California. On January 22, the restaurants will donate 100 percent of food sales to P.E.A.C.E. Relief, a charity based in Lake Forest, California.

“We’re so fortunate in this country,” Morris says. “We’re just trying to do whatever we can to help.”

Based on typical Friday business, Beach BBQ Pit should raise about $5,000 “depending on the weather,” Morris says.

Photo: Marco Dormino
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