If you’re in the cocktail world, you know Ivy Mix. She’s the co-owner of Leyenda, Brooklyn’s ‘pan-Latin inspired cocktail bar’, founder of Speed Rack, the all-female high-speed bartending competition, and co-owner of Fiasco! Wine and Spirits. She’s also a James Beard Award-nominated bartender, the winner of numerous industry accolades and author of Spirits of Latin America.
And when the pandemic hit, one of the industry’s most prominent figures added another title to her impressive resume: activist.
Mix joined the Independent Restaurant Coalition as an Advisory Board member in March 2020, just after temporarily closing her bar due to Covid-19 restrictions. “I was scared. Everyone I knew in the restaurant and bar community realized that the coronavirus presented an unprecedented, revenue-eating situation that threatened our entire industry,” she explains over email. “We needed help. When I learned that my industry peers, people who I respected from across the country, were coming together to unite our voices and ask Washington for financial support, I had to join the fight.”
The Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC) has been a powerful lobbying force for bars and restaurants since the pandemic began. In less than one year, this community of independent operators made headlines with their national #SaveRestaurants movement, and proposed a grant to support the industry. A modified version of their RESTAURANTS Act was signed into law last month, securing $28.6 billion of funds for independent bars and restaurants.
As an Advisory Board member, Mix acts as a lobbyist, spokesperson and mouthpiece for the industry. In addition to calling government representatives, she serves as a resource for her peers, explaining how the IRC can help them and their businesses. “The IRC has developed guidance for restaurants and bars to prepare to apply for relief. It is my job to make sure my network knows where to access that information.”
Entering the realm of political activist was a steep learning curve. “I can speak for hours about the intricacies and origins of different spirits and cocktails, but prior to this year I did not know much about lobbying Congress, if anything.” But after a year of cold-calling representatives and spreading awareness about the IRC’s mission, she’s grown confident and even more passionate. “It was empowering. I came away from these conversations reminded that these members of Congress work for me. Frankly, I’m inspired to continue my advocacy.”
We spoke with Mix through email to get a better understanding of what the IRC does and how their work benefits independent operators.
As a small business owner, what support are you expecting from the $28.6 B grant?
I will be eligible for the difference between my 2019 revenue and 2020 revenue, minus my PPP loan(s). I have followed the guidance the IRC has provided and am getting the information I need to prepare for the application once it is available. I’m going to submit my application as soon as the Small Business Administration (SBA) publishes it. I know there is going to be a lot of demand for these grants. My fingers are crossed.
In your opinion, what does the hospitality industry need right now? How does the IRC support that?
Right now, the restaurant and bar industry needs the SBA to stand this grant program up as quickly as possible. The IRC is working directly with the SBA to streamline the application process and make it accessible to even the smallest and least connected businesses. The restaurant and bar community needs this money so they can pay down debt, survive the coming months, and hire back our full staff.
What have been some of the biggest lessons (or surprises) you’ve encountered since working with the IRC?
The power of a united voice, and a dedicated group of people is immense.
What is next for the IRC?
Restaurants and bars have lost well over $200 billion dollars this past year, and over two million workers are still out of a job. $28.6 billion is a good start, but will certainly not be enough relief for the 500,000 independent restaurants and bars in the country, or the 11 million people we employ. The IRC and our champions in Congress will not stop fighting until our industry receives the relief we need. Beyond that, I am excited to continue representing us little guys and fighting for our rights and needs.
How can other operators get involved and support the work of the IRC?
The best way operators can support the IRC’s efforts is telling everyone in their networks about the grant program and distributing our materials about accessing funding. We will be regularly giving updates on the program, so please check out our website, www.saverestaurants.com.
Do you have any parting words or advice you’d like to share with other operators?
Hang on. Help is on the way.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more information about the Independent Restaurant Coalition, visit www.saverestaurants.com.