Rodney Mayo of Subculture Group Spearheads Aid for Hospitality Workers

by Darien Davies 

When you’re faced with a crisis and help isn’t happening fast enough, do what Rodney Mayo does. He is being the change he wishes to see, and starting where he knows best: with the power of food.

Due to restrictions and regulations set in place by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Gov. Ron DeSantis to combat the spread of COVID-19, many of our local restaurants have had to close their doors and/or severely limit their operations. Not only does this mean a temporary loss of employment for thousands of people in the food service industry, but also a temporary loss of income and ability to purchase food. So, Mayo created the Hospitality Helping Hands charity as a way to combat food insecurity among the many food service professionals who have been affected by the coronavirus.

“This overwhelmingly trying time is affecting every single human on this Earth! I do fear for our future. We closed every Subculture location yesterday. We were forced to lay off 650 amazing, dedicated staff, which are all really our extended families. Those 650 have families so this is severely impacting over 1,800 people we dearly care about. It certainly is the hardest day I have ever experienced in my business life,” said Rodney Mayo, owner of Sub-Culture Restaurant Group, on the Hospitality Helping Hands blog. “The only way I have been able to cope with this trauma is to only think about the next 24 hours. That and immerse myself into how perhaps we can make the best of an awful situation. We started out by assuring our extended Subculture family of 1,800 that we will provide them with at least 1 meal a day. That quickly grew as we heard from many charities that are being severely strained in providing meals to the needy. Along with the entire hospitality community that is for the most part not receiving any more paychecks.”

Mayo decided to reopen Howley’s Restaurant and set it up as a food distribution center. He and his team are providing and will continue to provide free meals to several local charities, any laid-off hospitality worker and, of course, his Sub-Culture family. They’ve even set up a queue so people don’t have to get out of their car. He is suggesting to just pop the trunk and they will place the meals in the trunk, or simply roll the window down a little bit if the meal is to be enjoyed right away.

The West Palm Beach City Commission gave the charity a $12,000 grant that will go toward purchasing food for the free meal program at Sub-Culture’s Howley’s Restaurant. The charity has also received $6,000 in online donations in three days. As of Friday, March 20, he and his team have been able to provide 5,000 free meals by utilizing the food reserves at Sub-Culture Group, and they will continue to provide 1,300-1,500 free meals per day through Friday, March 27. Saturday, March 28, Troy’s Barbeque will collaborate with H3 to provide even more meals. 

Mayo is expecting their current daily volume to double or triple shortly, and is proposing two challenges to the local community to be able to handle the necessary volume. The first challenge is directed at everyone who is either still receiving a paycheck or any business that is still open: make a donation to Hospitality Helping Hands. As of now, the $50,000 goal has been met, which has been matched to double it. Once donations reach $100,000, it will be doubled again.

His second challenge is for all restaurant owners to join the charity. Instead of focusing on delivery and pick-up orders at their restaurants, he encourages they charge less for a meal, so they can not only employ their team but also help unemployed hospitality workers. He is proposing they sell an $8 meal with a goal to sell 500 meals per day. At this 500-meal break point, the restaurant will not only be able to cover costs and help the community afford meals, but also be able to employ their kitchen crew. The only caveat for these restaurants to be a “helping hand” is that they must provide an equal number of free meals to paid meals. While Mayo admits that while the restaurant owners will not make money off of this challenge, they will be back open, they will be able to provide some re-employment for their staff, and, upon fully reopening, they will have the most loyal and dedicated customer base.

“Would it not be amazing if the restaurants in our community banded together and created a model that gave all our friends who are suffering an affordable and/or free meal? We could be the first in the country that would at least take the fear of ‘where do I get my next meal’ away from everyone who is suffering emotionally and financially,” Mayo said.

Hospitality Helping Hands, or H3, is a non-profit that formed in the last week to help feed the hospitality workers laid off due to the COVID-19 shutdown. The initial meal distribution point is currently taking place at Howley’s Restaurant, located at 4700 S. Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach, Fla., and will be open seven days a week from 1 to 6 p.m. providing free meals to those in need.

Mayo is encouraging everyone to give what they can, help by purchasing food to feed the needy who have lost their job due to the shutdown, or by donating directly as a tip to the Sub-Culture staff. To join the Hospitality Helping Hands program or to find out more information, visit hospitalityhelpinghands.org, call (561) 714-2382 or email r@subculturegroup.com.

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