The LEE Initiative Outlines Projects for 2021

The LEE Initiative, a non-profit launched by Lindsey Ofcacek and Chef Edward Lee to address equity issues in the restaurant industry, announces a new vision for 2021, with programs focused on rebuilding the industry as well as the nation’s supply chains in a more sustainable, equitable, and diverse way.

“We spent 2020 in crisis mode, doing everything we could to provide relief to as many people as possible,” says Ofcacek. “As we finally see a light at the end of this pandemic, we want to help the restaurant industry rebuild and move forward in a sustainable way. We want to create the changes we’ve always wanted in our communities.”

The LEE Initiative will expand several existing programs through the ongoing support of Maker’s Mark and Audi. Maker’s Mark has partnered with The LEE Initiative since the non-profit was founded in 2017 and has been an integral part of its growth and success. Audi became a partner during the beginning of the pandemic and has worked side by side with Ofcacek and Lee to grow these programs. In 2021, they will expand their support beyond Restaurant Relief Programs to include the Women’s Culinary & Spirits Program and other inclusion-focused initiatives.

The LEE Initiative will focus on the following for 2021:

Women Culinary & Spirits Program

Formerly the Women Chefs of Kentucky Program, the Women Culinary & Spirits program expands both nationally and into the beverage world. This program aims to elevate women to leadership positions in the industry and help mend issues of gender inequity in top roles. The LEE Initiative will create career and life-changing mentorship experiences for ten female chefs and five female spirits professionals. This program will include a seven-day externship at a female-led restaurant; seven days of working on a sustainable farm; a butcher workshop, product development with Maker’s Mark; and a FAB Summer Camp workshop. Applications for this program open on February 26 and close March 24.

Restaurant Workers Relief Program

Through the Restaurant Workers Relief Program, The LEE Initiative has distributed over one million meals throughout the pandemic so far. With ongoing job losses and an economic crisis, millions of Americans are in need of community support and assistance, from restaurant workers to healthcare employees to touring professionals. The LEE Initiative continues to empower locally owned restaurants to serve their communities, funding their services and directly benefiting employees as they feed those in need. This relief gives the restaurant industry a chance to survive this crisis.

Restaurant Reboot Relief Program

In the summer of 2020, Ofcacek and Lee launched the Restaurant Reboot Relief Program to help repair the supply chain between small farms and independent restaurants as cities began to reopen. The LEE Initiative spent over $1 million at sustainable partner farms, giving independent restaurant partners a credit to buy products from these farms. This program alleviated some of the financial burden of reopening by allowing restaurants to continue buying quality products and keeping small farmers afloat. In 2021, The LEE Initiative has a goal of investing an additional $1.5 million into farms through this program. 

Southern Restaurants for Racial Justice

In 2020, The LEE Initiative partnered with Southern Restaurants for Racial Justice, a coalition of bakers, chefs, makers, and restaurant owners, joined together to do the work to benefit Black communities and Black-owned restaurants in the South. In 2021, The LEE Initiative will continue working with SRRJ to give grants directly to Black-owned restaurants in the South, helping to offset the toll that the pandemic has taken on these restaurants.

The McAtee Training and Community Kitchen

Formerly McAtee Community Kitchen, this program will expand as a culinary internship program for young adults, providing long-term career paths to young professionals in Louisville while helping the industry become more diverse and empowered. The McAtee Training and Community Kitchen will also cook, deliver, and organize meals for Louisville communities in need.

“We’re envisioning 2021 as our year to help rebuild the industry. We will continue to feed people with our relief programs and we’ll also really ramp up the programs that create more diversity and sustainability in the restaurant industry,” says Lee.

“Our partnership with The LEE Initiative has allowed us to be truly innovative in the ways we can champion and support our friends in the hospitality industry,” says Maker’s Mark Managing Director Rob Samuels, the grandson of the bourbon’s founders. “We’re honored to collaborate with them on what is an ambitious and important vision.”

“Audi is thrilled to continue to support the LEE Initiative as it expands its focus in 2021,” said Tara Rush, chief marketing officer, Audi of America. “At Audi, we share a vision for a more sustainable, diverse and inclusive future and we are committed to supporting programs that further that goal.”

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