That’s a Relief

APRON Inc. Brings Needed Support to Local Food and Beverage Employees

Writer / Kevin Gibson
APRON Inc.   Photography Provided

When Chris Williams developed frostbite in his hands and couldn’t work, APRON Inc. was there.

Williams, owner and chef at Four Pegs Smokehouse & Bar, had gone on an ice-fishing trip in Minnesota, according to APRON President Gary Fox. It was in the early days of APRON Inc.’s mission to help local hospitality workers during difficult times. Fox simply says the organization helped Williams “get his footing.”

Asked about the incident, Williams chuckles. “I was at my bachelor party and had a little too much fun, and fell asleep on the ice,” he says.

While he can laugh about it now, he admits it certainly wasn’t amusing at the time. Not only could he not work for several weeks, but there was also a concern of permanent damage.

“I thought I was going to lose my fingers for a few days,” he says, chuckling again. “It was extremely painful. The immediate remedy for that is to put your hands in hot water and that was the most excruciating thing I’ve ever felt in my life.”

At that point Williams was still running his food truck, 502 Cafe. APRON Inc. stepped up to help Williams pay his bills while he recovered, and it’s why, to this day, he does all he can for the organization, which turns 12 years old this year.

In fact, he’s not alone. Many chefs, establishment owners and hospitality workers chip in, simply because they know it could be them at some point – or it already has been.

Local organizations of all kinds help, as do individuals, in part because it’s a necessary cause in an industry in which workers might not have access to health insurance. It might be as simple as an injury that keeps an employee out of work for a week or two, and APRON Inc. can step in to help pay that month’s bills, or part of the rent.

The organization’s mission statement reads, “The mission of APRON Inc. is to provide temporary, limited financial relief to professional food and beverage workers in the Louisville, KY metro area who work at locally owned establishments and who are experiencing financial distress due to illness, accident, emergency, or catastrophic event through no fault of their own.”

Throughout the 12 years, Fox says, APRON has served just over 1,000 workers with donations totaling more than $800,000. “That’s pretty good for tiny little charity,” Fox says.

Recently, the 1,000th hospitality worker received much-needed help after being in a devastating automobile accident. The young woman was left in a coma, and her mother applied for a grant, which APRON Inc. fulfilled. She is now in rehab.

APRON Inc.

“I talked to her the other day and it sounds like she’s doing really well with what she calls her new reality,” Fox says.

The charity runs largely on fundraisers, both event based and ongoing, as well as donations from individuals, businesses and corporations (it’s easy to make a donation online at aproninc.org/donate). There are pop-ups and also plenty of ongoing events and fundraisers that are always posted on the organization’s social media and website.

One ongoing fundraiser is a monthly happy-hour meetup that includes drawings, food, cocktails and tastings. Known as the Happy Hour Friend-Raiser, the regular event is free, and mostly serves as a way to meet those involved in APRON and to network. Of course, donations are encouraged at these happy hours.

Another event is the annual Taste of Independence, which typically involves about 35 local restaurants and 12 beverage providers for a fundraising tasting event. The ticketed tasting also includes the APRON Awards presentations, and generally celebrates the city’s independent restaurants and bars.

Maker’s Mark hosts an annual APRON Inc. fundraising event as well (although it was on hiatus in 2023, expect it to return in 2024), which includes a self-guided tour of the distillery and its grounds, usually featuring 10 chefs and five bartenders. Maker’s Mark Flavor Fest is a laid-back event with only 300 tickets available, which gives attendees a relaxing evening of walking around, sipping cocktails and tasting local fare.

“It’s just a beautiful, beautiful experience,” Fox says. “It’s a delightful fundraiser.”

There’s also the more recent 10-Taste Salute, which brings in five chefs to cook two small dishes that pair together, with varying themes. The event is a sit-down dinner with a live auction, champagne happy hour, video presentations and more, which Fox describes as “a very nice way to get to know us and have a wonderful dinner.”

APRON Inc.

One of the more popular fundraisers is Chef in a Box, for which participating restaurants create a takeout dinner of some kind that the public can purchase for $50, with half the money going to the restaurant and half going to APRON Inc. It brings together assistance from both the businesses and those who patronize the businesses. Williams’ Four Pegs is a regular participant, Fox says, as are River Road BBQ and several other restaurants.

Fox says that other than donating directly, Chef in a Box is probably the easiest and most immediate way to help APRON Inc.

In fact, Chef in a Box was a product of the COVID-19 pandemic. With public fundraisers a no-go, restaurants needing customers and hospitality workers looking for relief, it was an on-the-fly concept created by APRON Inc. Board Member Dan Dry. It happened to become so popular that it is now a regular concept that keeps giving.

Interestingly, Fox says, COVID proved both difficult and rewarding. APRON began the pandemic with money in the bank – a good thing when, suddenly, the charity was receiving 20 applications a day for help. While a grant can typically be up to $2,000, the maximum was $500 during the heart of the pandemic shutdown, as a way to spread the wealth, so to speak. The result was 600 people getting grants over an approximate two-and-a-half-year period starting in early 2020.

“We decided to just give out money until we didn’t have anymore,” Fox says. “It worked out because it gave people a little bit of breathing room. That was a very rough time. It was a real challenge but we came out very strong.”

APRON Inc.

Since then, APRON Inc. has hired an executive director in Robin Miller, who Fox says is a “breath of fresh air,” and who has the charity on solid footing moving forward. Miller certainly appreciates what APRON offers the hospitality community.

“What moves me every time is when our grantees say that we’ve literally changed their lives and helped them in their biggest time of need,” Miller says. “They say we’ve lightened their load and given them peace of mind. I’m humbled by the work we do here, and I’m even more humbled by the generosity of this community who supports our cause and allows us to give out these grants to Louisville’s independent restaurant workers.”

With that undying support of the hospitality industry and the community, the future looks bright for the unique charity organization. Certainly, Williams intends to continue lending a hand whenever possible. Let’s face it – in a way, he owes having 10 fully functioning fingers to APRON Inc.

“It was my introduction to them, so now whenever they ask me to do any kind of event, I’m always down to help them out,” Williams says. “They’ve helped a bunch of our employees too. Their only thing is to help people. They’re not trying to make money. They’re just trying to help.”

For more info, go to aproninc.org.

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