The Lee Initiative has already raised $1.25 million to help hospitality workers and their families during the pandemic. Money raised helps everyone from the local farmers and business owners to the front line workers like servers and bartenders. The hospitality industry has been hit hard by closures, which start again tomorrow for in-person dining. Restaurants of all sizes are struggling and closing, and Chef Edward Lee is using his influence in the community to help
“We started way back three years ago when we wanted to start a program for quality and diversity for women in positions of power, especially in the urban neighborhoods,” says Lee. “Two years ago when they shut down the Federal government we fed Federal workers, and we thought in March we should apply that to restaurant workers. By the second day 300 people showed up and caused a traffic jam. That showed us this was a crisis and people were really suffering.”
“This is not a Louisville problem, this is a national problem,” Lee says.
What started as a $5000 donation from Maker’s Mark has snowballed into a nationwide initiative to help hospitality workers, business owners, and their families, according to Maker’s Mark Senior Marketing Manager Valerie Netherton. The idea to make a special bottle to raise additional money for The Lee Initiative would later come from Netherton.
“We have been able to invest in restaurants across the nation to stay open and keep their employees taken care of,” says Lindsey Ofcaeck, Managing Director of The Lee Initiative.
“We call ourselves a compassionate city and we have to prove that to the world,” Lee says. “We help each other out. We want to show the world. People are looking to us now as a model of quick action for putting together this initiative.”
Ofcaeck has talked to restaurant owners and asked what would help them most, which has led to an investment in local farms to help get local, sustainable food at a reduced cost, supporting both restaurants and farmers alike.
“The community has matched dollar for dollar every corporate dollar that has been donated,” says Ofcaeck. “And about $0.95 of every dollar goes to direct aid, often within days.”
“We just want to help people, and we can do it with a staff of four people in Louisville, Kentucky,” says Lee.
Now The Lee Initiative has partnered with Maker’s Mark again, this time to release a special bottle that is intended to raise $500,000 by selling 7500 bottles at a minimum SRP of $70 each. (More info about the Lee Initiative/Maker’s Mark CommUNITY bottle here.)
From Maker’s Mark:
-First, Maker’s Mark created individual barrels of Private Selection Bourbon by taking fully matured cask-strength Maker’s Mark and finishing it with each partner’s unique combination of ten barrel staves for an additional nine weeks in the Maker’s Mark Cellar.
-Once finished, the whisky from the barrels was blended and filled back into the barrels to rest for an additional five weeks to allow the subtle nuances of the custom bourbon to properly integrate.
-The resulting characteristics of the CommUNITY Batch include:
-Stave Contributions: P2 (13%), CU (24%), 46 (20%), Mo (27%) and SP (16%)
-Aroma: Caramel and almond up front with dark fruits, cherry, chocolate and very subtle spice
-Taste: Round, dark with cured tobacco, heavy notes of dried fruit, like prunes or figs, along with soft, but dry baking spices. There’s a long, viscous finish that hangs around; it’s an incredible balance of astringent and oily.
Information from The Lee Initiative on how to score a bottle:
Customers can get their hands on this limited release ONLY through various LEE Initiative events, some virtual, being held across the country. The tickets for this bourbon and events will be available through donations to The LEE Initiative. Our website will list those opportunities starting in a few weeks, and the funds raised will create a trust that has the potential to help us carry our industry through future disasters.
See a video of the bottle being produced here.
Cover image courtesy of Maggie Kimberl