Restaurants ranging from big chains like Papa John’s Pizza to a legion of independent operators stepped up this past week to help residents and businesses of tornado-ravaged Moore, Okla.

The May 20 tornado killed 24 people, injured more than 370 people and caused an estimated $2 billion in damage, some to restaurants in the area.

The Oklahoma City-area foodservice community mobilized Tuesday to support rescue workers and tornado victims with food trucks, donation drops and a benefit planned for Sunday at the Myriad Gardens.

The tornado shut down the Moore unit of Dallas-based Taco Bueno for more than a day, largely because of power outages in the weather system’s aftermath. “There wasn’t much damage to the store,” said Elisabeth Zuerker, marketing manager for the Taco Bueno unit, “but there were large-scale losses of electricity.”

The restaurant re-opened on the Wednesday after the storm. “We were able to prepare and take food to Red Cross shelters and other rescue workers from our stores in Norman and Oklahoma City,” Zuerker said. “We’re just fortunate none of our employees were injured during the storm.”



Other regional restaurant brands helped in feeding relief workers as well. Raising Cane’s, for example, had its “Emergency Response Team” in the area and served complimentary meals to all first responders and relief workers. Lexington, Ky.-based Fazoli’s, which partners with the Feed the Children organization, also served dinner on May 22 to first responders and tornado victims.

Taco Bueno conducted a donation day, supported by an email blast, at all of its Oklahoma restaurants last Wednesday. “Our team in Oklahoma City, led by district managers Stephanie Lipscomb and Trace Zuniga, will be presenting a check to the OKC Red Cross for $8,700,” Zuerker said. “We also had several groups of people tied to our organization out this weekend to help with cleanup efforts in the area.”

Brands such as Sprinkles Cupcakes and Oklahoma City-based Sonic, as well as local outlets of Buffalo Wild Wings, Chipotle, CiCi’s Pizza, El Chico, Little Caesars, Marco’s Pizza and Qdoba also donated part of their sales to the Oklahoma relief efforts.

Even noted chef Rick Bayless, who was raised in the Moore area, donated $1 for every sale of guacamole at his Chicago restaurants Frontera Grill and Xoco to the relief causes.



This past Sunday, Louisville, Ky.-based Papa John’s Pizza conducted a nationwide benefit, donating $1 for every pizza ordered to the Salvation Army Oklahoma Recovery Effort.

In addition, Oklahoma Papa John's operator Jason Opie and his crew served hundreds of pizzas to victims and relief workers in the immediate aftermath of the storm. Papa John’s also sent a “mobile kitchen” relief truck to serve larger crowds, the company said.

“Everyone in the Papa John's family salutes and stands behind the recovery effort, and we hope that others across America will join in as well to fuel the rebuilding of this community, which is truly in the 'heart' of our nation,” said John Schnatter, Papa John’s founder, chairman and chief executive, in a statement.

Also on Sunday, independent chefs in the Oklahoma City area created OK Chefs Relief, a pop-up restaurant that produced a three-course meal for a donation of $35, with all the proceeds going to the Red Cross.

The support efforts continue from companies such as Canton, Mass.-based Dunkin' Brands Inc., the parent company of Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins. The company said that through June 28, participating Dunkin' Donuts restaurants in Oklahoma City and Dallas will collect donations from guests via in-store canisters to support American Red Cross disaster relief. In addition to the month-long collection program, Dunkin' Brands will make a $10,000 donation to the American Red Cross to help people affected by recent disasters.

Karen Raskopf, Dunkin Brands’ chief communications officer, said in a statement that “our hope is that our donation to the American Red Cross, coupled with the donations from our guests, will help the survivors and their families during this difficult time."

Contact Ron Ruggless at ronald.ruggless@penton.com.
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