The Lawrence Restaurant Association is debuting a new fundraiser for its Hospitality Workers Relief Fund: the Cocktail Trail, running Thursday through Sunday at more than 40 local establishments.
“Things like Restaurant Week and the Cocktail Trail are very important to getting people excited about all of the interesting things that our businesses are doing with food and drinks here in Douglas County,” said K Meisel, co-founder of Leeway Franks and treasurer for LRA.
Participating establishments will feature at least one drink, maybe multiple, and $1 from the sale of those drinks will be donated to the Hospitality Workers Relief Fund held at the Douglas County Community Foundation.
715, for instance, will donate $1 for every cocktail sold over the four-day period; RPG will donate $3 for every flight of game-themed “potions” it sells.
One idea behind the event was to highlight local bars unable to participate in Restaurant Week, which took place in February.
“As a complement to (Restaurant Week) we wanted to have an event that really highlighted and allowed for the inclusion of our bar partners, so you will see some bars on there, like John Brown’s Underground, R Bar, Elmo’s Tavern, Kaw Valley Public House, and Gaslight,” Meisel said. “All of these are really wonderful bars, independently owned, that we have here in Lawrence.”
Restaurants without liquor licenses, such as Archibowls, can sell beer instead. Archibowls will also be selling Boulevard Quirks for their “cocktail.”
“It’s so cool that we have a restaurant association that does a relief fund for hospitality workers because they have so little safety net,” said Sarah Busse, owner of Archibowls.
Meisel said the LRA is composed of owners and operators who work to bolster each other up, rather than compete for customers.
“We are really very supportive of each other’s businesses,” she said. “We want to encourage people not just to support our restaurants but to support other bars and restaurants and hospitality businesses in the area because we think we have something really special here.”
See the full list of participating establishments at lawrencerestaurantassociation.com.
About the fund
The Hospitality Workers Relief Fund is a low-barrier fund eligible to anyone working in the hospitality industry.
Launched in April 2020, the Hospitality Workers Relief distributed $240,000 to more than 700 hospitality workers over the course of 2020 and 2021. A large percentage of that money was from COVID-related grants and CARES funds.
Emily Peterson, president of the LRA and owner of Merchants Pub & Plate, said there was an urgency in starting the fund once the pandemic set in.
“We were really worried that our workforce was just going to totally and completely exit the industry. And we wanted to do something and do something fast to help bridge the gap and help take care of people as we all figured out what was next,” Peterson said. “I’m really proud of the way that we did it (with) a very low barrier. You just had to have a pay stub within a certain timeframe demonstrating that you were actively employed in hospitality before the pandemic hit.”
Workers were able to receive up to $500.
Lesli Smith, a server at Free State Brewery for more than 20 years, received about $200 in the midst of the pandemic.
“That right there was a full trip to the grocery store,” she said. “It was literally one of those unexpected blessings.”
To qualify for funds, workers need to demonstrate that they’re actively employed in the hospitality business in Lawrence and visit one of the LRA partner organizations: Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, Heartland Community Health Center, Centro Hispano and Ballard Center.
With more than 40 establishments participating, Meisel advises against imbibing at all of them in one night.
“Don’t try and hit all 40 establishments in one day,” she said. “Pick and choose where you want to go — but we are really, really excited about highlighting those particular businesses, and the weather should be great. So it’ll be a really fun time.”
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Chansi Long (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from July 2022 through August 2023. Read more of her work for the Times here.