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Chef Drew Ward speaks about how he's been battling empty kitchens during coronavirus.

Chef Drew Ward of Artisanal Brewing Ventures on the resilience of the restaurant industry

Chefs and independent restaurateurs will find a way to recover from the damages of coronavirus, the Charlotte, N.C., operator says: “We are fighters, scrappers and pirates”

As part of our Stories from the Front Lines series, Restaurant Hospitality reached out to restaurateurs to share their experiences during the coronavirus crisis. Here, Drew Ward corporate executive chef of Artisanal Brewing Ventures in Charlotte, N.C., shares his story.

What is it like being a chef during COVID-19? It is simply unlike anything I could have ever imagined. To watch an entire industry shut its doors and not do what it does best — make people happy — is a sight that I never thought I would see in my lifetime.

As the corporate executive chef for a top-10 craft beer company, I know I have had it a little easier than some of my chef friends due to continuing beer sales. Like most chefs, we tried the to-go/curbside platform in our taprooms. Though we had some success we made the difficult decision to stop serving food for the time being.

drew-ward.jpgOn April 6 I turned the lights out in the kitchen that I had poured every ounce of myself into for the past two years. Even after seeing countless chefs post pictures and stories of “blowing out the pilot light” on social media, I was still not ready for the rush of emotion that came with seeing a dark and quiet kitchen.

The saying “people always have to eat” has enabled many a chef to feel secure in this industry throughout its history. None of us ever expected this.

I have no doubt that my kitchens will come back better than ever. I have zero doubt that our industry will be back stronger than ever. There is no question that the landscape will look different. The simple truth is that some places will not make it out of this. It is a sad and scary thought. However, I have been around many great chefs in my career. By nature, we are fighters, scrappers and pirates. With this spirit, chefs and restaurateurs will claw our way back.

In the not-too-distant future, we will get to hear the clanging of pots and pans, the searing of a piece of meat, the chopping of knives, and have the privilege to do what we do best — provide for our guests and make them happy once again.

This is part of our Stories from the Front Lines series.

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