As Chicago restaurants fight for survival during the pandemic, some industry leaders are stepping up in a big way for their employees—like Bonhomme Hospitality Group co-founder and managing partner Daniel Alonso. With the group’s Miss Your Face initiative, all proceeds from gift cards purchased for future visits are donated to fund healthcare, healthy chef-prepared meals and financial relief for the company’s nearly 400 employees (aka “Bonhommies”). Here, Alonso shares his inspiration for the initiative, how he’s staying positive and motivated, and how he thinks Chicago might change for the better once the crisis passes.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your day-to-day life?
As hospitality entrepreneurs and parents of three living in an extended family household of seven, COVID-19 has definitely changed our lives, from forcing the closure of nine businesses to introducing us to the wonders of home schooling and reprioritizing the health and safety of our family and the extended Bonhomme team.
When did you first become inspired to help?
I’ve said it before: One should not throw around words like team or family without instinctively looking out for those same individuals, especially during times of crisis. Deciding to furlough nearly 400 teammates, the beautiful humans who make our venues special, was one of the most difficult decisions of my life, one enveloped in anxiety and shame. Steering our company through uncharted territory, I had to make this impossibly brutal decision in order to preserve our ability to enhance the funding for companywide healthcare plans, when our team needs it most, from 50% to 100%, and to support a family meal program that offers all members of the team the opportunity to take home eight to 10 healthy, chef-prepared meals per week.
How have your employees responded?
There has been a wonderful sense of connection across the entire team and appreciation for our efforts, though I wish we could do more. From the very beginning, our focus has been to provide the team with some peace of mind for life’s “essentials”: nutrition, healthcare, a sense of togetherness and a roof over our heads. By prioritizing a fully funded healthcare program and offering family meals, our team knew not to hesitate to visit a doctor and that they could limit their trips to grocery stores, saving time and money while hopefully reducing stress levels and respecting the need to social distance.
How are you staying centered and motivated during this trying time?
While the last few weeks have been enormously challenging, I am blessed with an incredible emotional and spiritual support structure thanks to my wife, family, friends and teammates. They help me remain sane, inspired, well-centered and motivated. Also, continuing to cultivate my beloved Bonhomme greenery and gardens gives me a much-needed regular shot of oxygen and Zen.
How are you keeping your employees reassured?
From the very beginning, communication with a capital C was top of mind. We connect with the entire leadership team on a daily basis and with the entire company throughout the week. We have tried our best to be honest, up front, informative and encouraging. However, I also cannot emphasize enough how inspired I am by the individual efforts occurring across our company, watching how teammates have stayed connected, looking after one another’s well-being and keeping each other motivated and productive.
How has the pandemic changed your perspective on how you run your business and lead your life?
It hasn’t changed my perspectives on life and business, which, to me, are intertwined; rather, it has reinforced my belief in the importance of a life well lived, filled with family, friendship, culture and a diverse community. Indeed, our family meals initiative demonstrates these very values and the passion and generosity of our leadership team. Thanks to them—notably, Bonhomme’s executive chef Marcos Campos, Vice President Meghan Vietti Perdue, and our chefs de cuisine from France and Spain (Erwin and Toni, respectively)—we have been able to make a small positive contribution to people we care deeply about.
How do you see Chicago (and the world at large) changing for the better after this runs its course?
After any crisis, there is always an opportunity to observe and learn. Hopefully, through this most recent crisis, we will have learned more empathy and kindness toward one another and our planet. Perhaps we will walk away with the realization that we can meaningfully improve our world by consuming a little less nonessential stuff while redirecting our limited time and energy toward the pursuit of more productive human endeavors and relationships.
What advice do you have to our readers on how to help?
First off, I think the Chicago hospitality industry as a whole has done an amazing job of rallying together for their families, teams and communities. It’s been so uplifting to see the coming together of so many people in this diverse industry to truly help each other. From the get-go, we decided that we wanted our guests’ support to be rewarded. With that in mind, we implemented a #missyourface/#bonhommies campaign in which 100% of Bonhomme gift card sales would be donated by myself and my partners to further fund healthcare, those chef-prepared meals and financial relief for our team members. We also like the fact that a gift card program offers a positive outlook of the near future when we can once again open our doors and hearts to our guests and team.
Photography by: Jeff Sciortino/Courtesy of Bonhomme Hospitality Group