- Jordan Barry
- Ian Bailey of Vivid Coffee Roasters
Vermont's service industry is facing unprecedented levels of unemployment as the result of shutdowns and loss of business due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As restaurants, bars and cafés adapted to takeout-only business models last month — or closed entirely to ride out the crisis — many were forced to trim their payroll, and food-service employees were laid off en masse.
Both in Vermont and nationally, industry groups have stepped up to support these workers financially. Among them is Vivid Coffee Roasters: The Winooski-based business is donating $2 per bag from each online coffee sale to baristas at its partner cafés who are out of work.
"Vivid exists because of our wholesale partners," owner Ian Bailey told Seven Days via Zoom. "The baristas are really the best advocates for Vivid and for our coffee. My business is only as good as the people who are partnering with the product, caring for it and serving it on an everyday basis to their local café communities."
Bailey started to think about the idea of a relief fund as soon as his first wholesale account — Little Woodfords in Portland, Maine — announced their plans to close.
Locally, Vivid's accounts with Catalyst Coffee Bar in St. Albans, Royal Oak Coffee in Middlebury and Onyx Tonics Specialty Coffee in Burlington are all still open, but the shift to curbside-only service and a statewide stay-at-home mandate has significantly reduced business. Scout & Co. and New Moon Café are temporarily closed.
As a result, Vivid's online sales are increasing — including a newly established coffee subscription option. It only made sense, Bailey said, to use revenue from that sales channel to give back.
Bailey reached out to the owners of his wholesale partner cafés, creating an opt-in list of the Venmo usernames of baristas who have lost their jobs. He will send out equal distributions from the fund — which he currently estimates to be close to $1,000 — every two weeks. Bailey is planning the first distribution for later this week, once he's sure the list of affected baristas is complete.
"I don't know what stage of the process everyone is at with unemployment," Bailey said. "I just know there's a need, and it felt right to stay connected to them in this way."
Bailey isn't accepting outside donations for Vivid's relief fund for logistical reasons, he said, but he encouraged community members who want to support their baristas to look to their local cafés, many of which have set up crowdfunding pages or virtual tip jars for their employees.
"Buying a gift certificate or merch online is a great way to support these businesses and make sure they are able to reopen and rehire, too," he said.
In addition to the barista relief efforts, Vivid is also using 100 percent of the sales of its Winooski Dome hats to purchase grocery gift cards for the Winooski School District to distribute to families in need.
National nonprofits are ramping up direct assistance for unemployed industry workers, too. A relief program through the nonprofit Restaurant Workers' Community Foundation is offering financial assistance to individual restaurant workers who fill out a needs-based application. The foundation is not based in Vermont, but Vermonters are eligible to apply.
The United States Bartenders' Guild National Charity Foundation has also established a COVID-19 emergency assistance relief campaign, open to bartenders who meet the program's requirements regardless of USBG membership. The Vermont Bartenders' Guild is directing its members seeking financial assistance, as well as anyone looking to donate to the cause, to the national fund.