For one Parkite, 1 million bottle openers are the keys to supporting bartenders during the pandemic
It’s no secret that the country’s hospitality industry has taken a nosedive due to the coronavirus since mid-March, and many of the industry’s workers, including bartenders and event planners, have found themselves out of work or working reduced hours over the past three months.
Nearly 700,000 U.S. bartenders out of work or underemployed due to the pandemic, according to a press release issued by the United States Bartenders Guild, a nonprofit that aims to unite and advance the industry.
With that number in mind, Grayson West, a Parkite who has more than 20 years of experience in the industry, decided he wanted to support his fellow barkeeps, and launched the Support Key Project a few weeks ago.
West, the former general manager of Top Shelf, an event bartending service that also offers education regarding Utah liquor laws, is trying to sell 1 million stainless steel bottle openers known as church keys for $9.99 a piece. He is donating 30% of the proceeds to the guild.
The guild and its national charity foundation is partnering with beverage brands and donors, like West, to raise funds that will help support the industry workers, said Executive Director Aaron Gregory Smith through the press release.
“We have been helping the bartending community for many years through our Bartender Emergency Assistance Program (BEAP), and now more than ever, this community needs us,” said Aaron Gregory Smith, Executive Director of the United States Bartenders’ Guild.
West never intended to go into hospitality, but was drawn to it through friends and opportunities.
“I love it,” he said. “The community is so positive and inspiring. So I want to help as much as I can.”
Bartending has become an honorable career over the past few years, according to West.
“I’ve seen it go from a part-time thing to a meaningful career that not only makes a reasonable living, but also creates drink styles,” he said. “It’s like what happened to chefs in the past two decades.”
To raise awareness for the guild’s cause, West uses a mini mallet to engrave numbers on each church key, he said.
“When bartenders pull out their keys that I have made, someone may see it and ask what the number means,” said West, who has served in various hospitality-industry capacities, including being a doorman, bartender and bar manager. “That opens up the conversation so bartenders can then talk about the Support Key Project and how it helped support them through the COVID-19 shutdown.”
Those who purchase the first 100 will receive a hand-written note about the Support Key Project from West, along with a cocktail recipe, he said.
West, the former head of experience for Alpine Distilling and former banquet manager for Blue Sky Ranch, conceived the Support Key Project while he reflected on his future and the future of his fellow bartenders during the coronavirus quarantine.
“A year ago I had been throwing events and organizing parties that range from 10 to 10,000 people, and with the current restrictions that came about due to COVID-19, I don’t see any of these types of events happening in the near future,” he said. “Sure there may be events for 20 to 50 people, but you need a lot of those to survive. In order to survive working at a bar you have to have patrons, because you also rely on tips.”
Although some of the Summit County Health Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 regulations have eased a bit, West believes there’s still a ways to go until things get back to normal.
“I think the pandemic will have a lasting effect on the bars and their employees for some time,” he said.
For information about the Support Key Project visit supportkeyproject.com.
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