Montreal Restaurant Workers Relief Fund

The Montreal Restaurant Workers Relief Fund supports a particularly vulnerable workforce

We spoke to Foxy’s wine director Kaitlin Doucette about the sliding-scale wealth-share fund she cofounded.

To donate and find more information about the Montreal Restaurant Workers Relief Fund, please visit their website.

Kaitlin Doucette is the wine director at Foxy in Montreal, or at least she was, until she, like thousands of other restaurant industry professionals, was forced to close down shop as the spread of COVID-19 made it clear that restaurants could no longer operate as usual. That was nearly two weeks ago, and as of March 24 restaurants across the entire province are obligated to stay closed until May 1.

This prolonged shutdown means the thriving and influential restaurant scene in Montreal is on pause and that the majority of the workers in this industry are temporarily unemployed. It doesn’t take much research into restaurant culture to learn that many people in the industry live in the margins of our society. They are low-income wage workers, and without a steady stream of work many will be unable to afford to support themselves financially during this time.

Doucette, with her team of hospitality workers, lawyers and non-profit specialists, have created an emergency relief fund specifically designed for hospitality workers struggling to make ends meet. We spoke to her at home about the Montreal Restaurant Workers Relief Fund, the nature of hospitality work and how best to contribute  — financially or otherwise. 

Clay Sandhu: Hey Kaitlin, how are you?

Kaitlin Doucette: I’m good. I’ve been very busy with this whole fund, which has been really enlivening and a total welcome distraction from the more existential questions — like will our industry survive? Will I have a job? Will I need to change career? So it’s been good. 

CS: Can you tell me a little about the Montreal Restaurant Workers Relief Fund?

KD: So for the moment, it’s a fund dedicated to short-term financial relief for hospitality workers. It’s essentially a wealth-share program. The idea really came out of seeing former clients and patrons [of restaurants] — myself being a hospitality worker — asking how [they could] help out the industry? [We] started a Go Fund Me in order to gather money and then from there people who are eligible can apply based on a sliding scale of $50 to $150. We require applicants to submit a redacted paystub to say “I work in hospitality,” and if they meet the criteria (and no one hasn’t), it’s just a simple, one-time e-transfer. The idea is really to see individuals through these moments of crisis while things like EI are backlogged. I know in my own personal experience when I was closing down Foxy I saw a lot of my colleagues being like, “I don’t know how I’m even going to be able to buy enough food to go into quarantine.” 

CS: How did you decide to take it upon yourself to create a safety net for restaurant workers?

KD: [The idea] kind of emerged organically. I saw a similar thing happening in New York, I think it was Grub Street or The New York Times that posted about it, and I just threw that up on my Instagram and I was like, “Hey, I’d like to do something similar for Montreal workers, who would be interested?” From there, the group quickly coalesced. I have a co-founder, Jessica Cytryn, who’s been on since the jump, and now we have a core group of about 10 really strong volunteers. There’s also about 30 additional people helping off and on with this. So it’s really been a process of delegating and creating groups that can kind of run themselves. I’m a huge believer in our mandate of collectivity. It’s what this is all about. We’re very fortunate that once we have competent people in place who know the systems, [we can] let them run with it. It’s been a fantastic collaborative effort and I can’t emphasize enough how crucial our volunteers are.  

CS: Where is the money coming from and where does it go?

KD: So far, the money has come from individual donations. We’ve gotten, just to give you a bit of scope, [donations for] as little as $5 up to one (who remains anonymous) of $10,000. That’s the way things have proceeded so far. We’re currently on a pause waiting for Go Fund Me to clear the money. After that, we’ll be taking on a phase two of looking into things like corporate sponsorship and other kinds of partnerships moving forward. I’ve had people within my network reach out to me and [saying], “Hey I could sell this beer I [made]” — I have a lot of beer makers in my network — “and give you the profits, how would you feel about that?” The money goes to the workers directly. The process is very easy: once they’ve applied they’re in the system and they sign up for the sliding scale [amount] they’re most in need of and we’ll send them a direct e-transfer. It’s as simple as that. 

CS: How do you decide where and how the money is allocated?

KD: Currently, we have money for just north of 300 [people]. We [also] have provisions for undocumented workers — you can have a moral debate over that — but the reality is there are undocumented workers in the Montreal workforce. The only thing slowing down the allocation of funds is Go Fund Me and that’s just because the COVID crisis is evolving faster than us at times. When we started this, we had a bunch of tech support which has waned a little bit. I mean, they are also overwhelmed. I think they’ve just had a surge of demand. So we haven’t been able to prioritize allocation as of yet, so we’re just doing it on a first come, first served basis. 

CS: Why do think restaurant workers specifically need a fund like this?

KD: I think if anything, this crisis has really underlined the fact that [hospitality workers] are disproportionately at risk. Restaurant workers occupy, in my experience, positions of marginalization — there’s a lot of people of colour, queer folk, non-binary folk, people of lesser means. These are people who live paycheque to paycheque and are lower on the scale of income, nevermind being at risk in so many other ways from mental health, physical health, stress and substance abuse issues that run rampant in our industry. I think this fund is necessary to give those people a little bit of a breather and economic relief. The response has been so overwhelmingly positive, just to know that there’s solidarity out there for them. The government has actually done a really great job of getting programs and employment insurance in place. This [fund] is [was created] in order to give people a little bit of a leg up while they wait for those services [to kick in]. 

CS: How can I contribute?

KD:The best way at the moment, which may change as we go into phase two, would be to contribute through our Go Fund Me.

CS: If I can’t contribute financially, are there other ways I can help out?

KD: Yes, absolutely! The best way to contribute in a non-financial way is to spread our message. We are still really in need and will continue to be in need of our message to circulate. Any little boost we’ve gotten from local or international media has been really, really fantastic. So that’s a great way to participate, just circulate the message, keep it alive, show solidarity whether it be through social media or reaching out to people in your personal network you think would be able to [donate]. ■

To donate and find more information about the Montreal Restaurant Workers Relief Fund, please visit their website.

See restaurant delivery recommendations from Cult MTL’s Food Team here.

See more coverage of the Montreal restaurant scene in our Food & Drink section.

To read the latest issue of Cult MTL, click here.

To vote for your favourite Montreal restaurants, retailers, artists, institutions and people in the Best of MTL readers poll, click here.