Recipe Unlimited donates food to local communities amid restaurant shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic
By Stefanie Ucci
One of Recipe Unlimited’s core values is to “do the right thing,” and during the COVID-19 pandemic, franchisees stepped up to do the right thing in their communities.
The opening and closing of restaurants in the Recipe Unlimited family of brands posed unexpected challenges for franchise owners. Fortunately, Recipe made the quick decision to donate food from its restaurants to local communities, both ensuring that no food went to waste while dining rooms were closed and as a way to express generosity and community spirit.
Julie Denton, chief people officer at Recipe Unlimited, points to Swiss Chalet as an example of one of the many restaurants that donated meals to those in need. She says that several brands did food drives throughout their communities, “working closely with long term care facilities to make sure they had adequate food supply when they had staff shortages.”
“Our franchisees took it upon themselves to do different things [throughout the pandemic],” explains Denton. “They did food drives, food packages, and meals to frontline and essential workers. In particular, we saw nurses, firemen, police—anyone who was on the frontline was supported by individual franchisees.”
Denton identifies Harvey’s frontline worker program, which provided a discount for frontline workers and a “Harvey’s RV” that drove across the country and donated more than 100,000 burgers to local communities. At the time of writing, Harvey’s also has a promotion called Canada’s Best Shot, which encourages Canadians to get vaccinated by offering one free burger with proof of vaccination.
As COVID-19 restrictions lift, Recipe is shifting focus from pandemic-related donations to other important charitable causes. Denton explains that Harvey’s has also recently partnered with Tree Canada to donate and raised enough funds to plant more than 34,000 trees this year. “We see our responsibility as not just food and food security, but also taking care of the environment in the communities we serve our customers in.”
Another brand under the Recipe Unlimited umbrella is St-Hubert, best known for its rotisserie chicken, with headquarters in Quebec. The brand’s charitable efforts include giving $7 million to at least 450 causes since 2012. Denton says the brand hasn’t slowed down its efforts during the pandemic and have honoured their charitable commitments to organizations such as the “Autiste et majeur” foundation, Food Banks of Quebec, and Make-a-Wish. St-Hubert also donated $100,000 to the Food Banks of Quebec at the beginning of the pandemic, in addition to its annual pledge, offering support to families affected by COVID-19.
Outside of its support during the pandemic, Recipe Unlimited gives back to programs such as Boys & Girls Clubs of Canada and DAREarts, by participating in a culinary leadership program where chefs volunteer their time. Recipe provides meal kit packing and gets employees involved in programs.
“We do look [forward] to coming out on the other side of COVID-19 and being able to do those initiatives where our employees are actively involved and not just focused on donations. It’s about employees giving back in terms of their time and efforts because we do believe that builds greater engagement and affinity,” explains Denton. “Ideally, we’d be able to cultivate culinary leaders from that program that eventually come and work in our restaurants.”
For its employees in Ontario, Recipe Unlimited provided salary continuance and dining allowance to those who had a much longer restaurant closure. “We continued to pay them even though our restaurants were closed since the last lockdown,” says Denton. “We paid them all the way through because we knew it was the right thing to do.” She explains that Recipe committed $1,590,000 to keep corporate hourly employees paid, and the program wrapped up on June 12, 2021, when restaurant patios were able to reopen in Ontario.
“I think restaurants really are all about community, so when we think about the importance and the foundation of coming together and celebrating milestones in people’s lives, we think about restaurants. That’s where you’ve had some of your fondest memories with family and friends and that’s where you go to celebrate,” says Denton. “We’re excited to get back to doing more in person, being more visible as opposed to just the donations. That’s a big thing for us.”