SPOKANE, Wash. — It only took a few days for the first seeds of the Spokane Hospitality Coalition to be planted this summer.
After a visit from Spokane County Health Officer, Dr. Bob Lutz, restaurant owners like Mark Starr from David's Pizza quickly became aware that something needed to change quickly.
"He came to us and said 'Hey, we need to do something, and we need to do it fast because these cases are going up. And if we can't get a handle on it, we're going to have to change the seating situation in restaurants again,' basically, roll us backward," Starr said. "So within a week's time, we had [Spokane] Regional Health, the city of Spokane, and a handful of restaurants onboard."
Those few restaurant owners formed the first band of the new Spokane Hospitality Coalition, whose mission statement on their website is "to keep our community safe and save local business."
"Every member of the SHC has agreed to follow improved guidelines, procedures, and regulations in order to keep our employees & customers healthy and our doors open," the website reads.
Since its first formation, the number of restaurants has grown to nearly 60 and is still growing, with a shared message to the communities of eastern Washington.
"Letting people know that its safe to go out and enjoy themselves, that businesses need their money," says Starr. "There's just three things that they need to be able to do, and do so consistently: wash your hands, watch your distance, and wear your mask."
But as the coalition began to look ahead at some of the issues facing restaurants and other hospitality industries this year, which included the return of cold weather, the potential of future outbreaks, and other concerns, a new priority pushed its way into view: helping local victims devastated by wildfires.
"When it came to something like this, we're already asking a lot of people to come out and support, keep small businesses alive, so it's easy to say we also owe it to them," said Bryan Toston, a coalition member and owner of Kraken Creative. "It's a two-way street, you know? We make it work together."
And that led to the kick-off of the "Cards of Care" Gift Card Drive, an effort to gather gift cards to restaurants within the coalition, and gift them to wildfire victims who are looking for a sense of relief, a good meal, or simply some time away from the devastation local wildfires have caused them.
Within the first 24 hours of that drive, restaurants quickly gathered up more than $800 of gift cards.
"If somebody comes in and buys these gift cards, that's going to go directly to families affected by the fires, displaced and living in Spokane, and give them an opportunity to kind of have a night out," Toston said. "That's a little bit of a return to normalcy."
If you'd like to join in the gift card drive, you can view a list of SHC members at save509.com and drop your gift cards off at:
You can also track their Facebook page for the latest updates on area restaurants, bars and other hospitality businesses.