The California Restaurant Foundation (CRF), a nonprofit that has invested in and strengthened California’s restaurant community for 42 years, is celebrating a standout year in its legacy. 2023 was marked by significant increases in CRF’s financial aid ability and mentorship impact, which was extended to the Golden State’s food and beverage workers, independent restaurant owners and budding culinary pros through training, education, scholarships, fundraising and grants. In 2023, the foundation provided $3.5 million in grants to 537 independently owned California restaurants, supported nearly 150 food and beverage workers with critical relief funding, awarded $140,000 in scholarships to more than 55 high school students and saw a record 14,000 students participate in its ProStart culinary arts career exploration and training programs.

“Between economic instability, rising costs and continued statewide recovery, 2023 showed us that our work is still needed and appreciated by California’s restaurant industry,” says Alycia Harshfield, Executive Director of CRF. “From shutdowns to unforeseen hardships, we’ve heard heartbreaking stories and seen firsthand how grants provide a reset button for restaurant owners, workers and their families. We are as determined as ever to work with our generous donors, volunteers and restaurant partners to continue building a more resilient food community for future generations of Californians.”

Since 1981, the California Restaurant Foundation has invested in California’s restaurant community through empowering future leaders and providing hope and stability to its workforce. The foundation’s Restaurants Care arm is responsible for serving, supporting and caring for those already in the industry, and in 2023, aided nearly 150 food and beverage workers with critical relief funding to overcome crises including illnesses, accidents, loss of loved ones and natural or housing disasters. Proving that there is strength in numbers, the foundation’s annual Grateful Table dinner raised $162,000 for Restaurants Care, and 13 restaurant leaders joined the nonprofit as Restaurants Care Ambassadors, including representatives from FreshPoint, Sysco and Specialty Restaurants.

Another initiative central to the Restaurants Care umbrella is CRF’s Restaurants Care Resilience Fund, which has been powered by SoCal Gas, The PG&E Foundation and San Diego Gas & Electric since 2021. The fund provided a total of $3.5 million in grants to 537 independent restaurants in 2023, making it the most impactful single-year giving initiative in CRF’s history. The Resilience Fund awarded 366 independent restaurant owners with $5,000 grants, which could be used for equipment and technology upgrades, unforeseen hardships and employee training and retention. In response to the Hollywood strikes, the Restaurants Care Resilience Fund awarded $10,000 grants to 171 restaurants, food trucks and caterers in Los Angeles County who were impacted by the local industry shutdown.

“Los Angeles is one of California’s vibrant and colorful food scenes,” Harshfield continues. “We were grateful to help local restaurants, food trucks and caterers weather the storm and emerge from that tough time as more resilient businesses.”

In addition to aiding the state’s food and beverage workers, one of the California Restaurant Foundation’s principal missions is to invest in and prepare the future leaders of the restaurant and hospitality industry. In 2023, its ProStart program reached 14,000 teens at 145 public high schools across California, and empowered the next generation of chefs, owners and entrepreneurs through career exploration, mentorships that inspire and college scholarships. Impressively, CRF awarded up to $140,000 in scholarships to 57 students – an investment that will undoubtedly ignite incredible careers. CRF also celebrated the 10-year anniversary of its Force in Training (FIT) Day, which led 3,500 California ProStart students through mock job interviews, elevator pitches, career readiness activities and financial literacy education provided by Wells Fargo.

Reflecting on the mentorship and career readiness-focused day, Laurie Brandler, ProStart teacher at La Verne’s Bonita High School said, “The FIT Day restaurant volunteers reinforced what I teach my students in class and they could see the real world application of it.”

CRF’s significant community impact and philanthropic aid is made possible by many generous donors and partners, including the Galardi Group, Inc., BJ’s Restaurants, Sysco, Coca-Cola, Ecolab, EMPLOYERS Insurance, U.S. Bank and The Habit Burger Grill. Through strategic initiatives and record-breaking achievements, CRF continues to play a pivotal role in shaping a vibrant and sustainable future for California’s restaurant and hospitality professionals.

Industry News, Philanthropy