From Fine Dining to Lifeline


“We are in the hospitality industry. We make people happy.” – Jose Salazar


by Eric Hammer




That’s what keeps Cincinnati chef Jose Salazar awake at night. 


That’s probably true for most of us. We don’t know how long this lock-down will last, and we don’t know what unlocking it will look like, or what other type of restrictions will be imposed on the restaurants we love and miss. One thing is certain: we all depend on services from a multitude of neighbors in the hospitality industry who are now among our most vulnerable. To protect them and their presence in the future, we can support Chef Salazar, who is doing what every chef is trained to do: assess the reality and confront it promptly to get the service right. 


After the required closure of Salazar’s three restaurants on March 16, Jose and key staff from the Salazar Restaurant Group have been fearlessly providing solutions in this time of great uncertainty. Goose & Elder was immediately adapted for take-out. Three days later, Mita’s at 5th and Race was repurposed for the Restaurant Workers Relief Program in partnership with Chef Edward Lee ( Approximately 250 hot meals are distributed to unemployed restaurant workers, seven days a week from  4-7 p.m. Workers simply need to show a pay stub from a restaurant to qualify. At Mita’s, they are also distributing urgently-needed products such as diapers, formula, household products, and various canned or packaged food items. For a summary of Salazar’s response to this crisis, you can read Andy Brownfield’s Business Courier article. 


Many in the community have lent support to Mita’s relief program, including La Soupe and the Freestore Foodbank. The effort will continue as long as the support holds, and so far they have not fallen short of meals. Extra food is going to Tender Mercies. But with more weeks of lockdown ahead and no clear path for how to safely reopen our favorite restaurants, you can read more below on how to help.


If you need more inspiration, consider how Salazar and his team have mobilized so decisively to transform “service” from fine dining to life support. “Seeing my staff and watching them push through this, and be fearless, and continue to do everything to make people happy - that has been the most inspiring,” Salazar says. “Because we are in the hospitality industry, regardless of what happens, it’s important that we keep that in mind. They have been amazing. Every day I come around and tell them how wonderful and how great a job they’re doing and how proud I am of them.”


For those of us that are fortunate to have housing, employment, and healthcare insurance, our mission is not that difficult: maintain safe physical distancing, order take-out, tip generously, and donate to good causes like the Restaurant Workers Relief Program.


OTR in Action:


To help Mita’s Restaurant Workers Relief Program:

  1. Donate money to - you are able to designate your donation to go Cincinnati. This allows Mita’s to purchase the fresh foods for daily dinners.

  2. Bring non-perishable food donations to Goose & Elder at 1800 Race Street. Hours: 11:30 am to 8:00 pm, Tuesday through Sunday. Do NOT bring items to Mita’s.


To help the Salazar Restaurant Group (and all your neighborhood restaurants): 

  1. Support furloughed employees of the Salazar Restaurant Group:

    1. Donate to their GoFundMe campaign.

    2. Shop at their Bake Sale, every Sunday from Noon to 2:00 pm at Goose & Elder.

  2. Order take-out regularly and tip generously!  

  3. Goose & Elder is open six days per week from 11:30 am to 8:00 pm (closed Mondays). Look for specials on their Instagram page.


Eric Hammer has worked in public radio, high school teaching, and information technology, and his wife Mindy works for the Freestore Foodbank. The couple renovated an OTR home in 2014 where they have fallen in love with OTR's amazing people, food, and performing arts.