Editor’s note: The following is part of Startland News’ ongoing coverage of the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Kansas City’s entrepreneur community, as well as how innovation is helping to drive a new normal in the ecosystem. Click here to follow related stories as they develop.
Even in an unpredictable world struck by COVID-19, imperfections often can strike the most human tone, said artist Frank Norton. His design for the ongoing “KC Runs on Hospitality” campaign circles that sentiment with its offbeat, yet simple message.
“It’s like hands are working on it. It’s made by people and it’s made with love,” Norton, who also serves as art director for Boulevard Brewing Co., said of the imagery. “There’s a visceral reaction to it that hopefully is positive.”
Punctuated by Norton’s design sense, the KC Runs on Hospitality project hopes to spark support for hospitality workers losing jobs and pay, said Anna Petrow.
“We just want to be able to empower restaurant owners to give cash funds to hospitality workers that depend on them for work, and we really lucked out with Frank Norton who’s a talented graphic designer here in Kansas City and he kindly offered to donate his time and talents to create the T-shirt graphics,” said Petrow, the project leader for KC Runs on Hospitality and a Midwest-based culinary, travel, and lifestyle photographer. “I definitely attribute a large part of our success to his great design.”
The collaboration of Petrow and Norton, as well as Open Belly podcast founder Danielle Lehman, is donating proceeds to locally-owned restaurants through the selling of T-shirts to directly offset the costs of keeping on employees, she said, noting the team has a goal of raising $100,000 as fast as possible.
Click here to buy the shirt or learn more about the project.
“When the Stay At Home order went into effect, of course, hospitality workers were receiving far fewer shifts and many of them lost their jobs. Those that are retaining their jobs are missing out on a lot of lost wages through tips because restaurants aren’t operating at their normal volumes,” she said. “Danielle Lehman was a natural partner for this initiative because she’s also so connected in the restaurant industry and has a really great pulse on what’s going on locally.”
Click here to learn more about Danielle Lehman’s Curbside KC project which allows easier access to takeout and delivery options for local restaurants.
Those purchasing the shirt can give generally, which will be equally distributed among the registered restaurants, or choose individually which restaurant they would most like to support and ensure 100 percent goes to that choice, she added, noting the team also set up a virtual tip jar for any additional donations.
“We [initially] talked about a long-term project, but that maybe wouldn’t act fast enough, because there’s a certain amount of urgency,” Norton said of the early planning talks, which moved quickly.
T-shirt designs were finalized, approved, and ready to print within the span of a weekend, he said.
Collaboration in a design kitchen
Inspired by the belief the service industry is deeply tied to the fabric of Kansas City, Norton created the images for the shirt with unity and collaboration in mind, he added.
“I wanted to come up with a message that supported the idea that the hospitality industry is kind of this big, common thread in our culture and we rely on it every day and we should appreciate it. So in the graphic, it’s like all these hands are serving each other and the idea that hospitality is this wide array of these different levels of service and how they’re constantly taking care of us,” Norton said.
“Kansas City is great because we have this wonderful bar and restaurant scene with a lot of creative people and a lot of entrepreneurs — we’re lucky,” he added. “I added the line, ‘KC Runs on Hospitality’ because I wanted KC to be at the forefront.”
Having so many connections in the local restaurant industry, the hardships resulting from COVID-19 quarantine became personal, said Norton.
“A lot of restaurants on the list are people I’m friends with or have worked with before, so it’s like you want to feel like you’re taking care of your community and your friends when you can. [This project] is more of a social responsibility and an act of appreciation,” he said.
Since transplanting to KC from Springfield, Missouri, Norton was himself inspired to work primarily in the local bar and restaurant scene to develop a full aesthetic experience for entrepreneurs hoping to set themselves apart, he said.
“I like working with small businesses and those who are trying to push the culture in different ways, so that translates to a lot of local restaurants, bars, and breweries. I try to help other entrepreneurs build their visual identity to get attention and lend support through that and most of the time, that continues to be a relationship — it’s not like I give them a logo and we never talk again. It’s a more creative strategy and my work isn’t really built on charity, it’s built on support.”
“I think with any business, but especially in the service industry, you’re creating an experience and I get really excited working with people in food and beverage because you’re tasting things, you’re sitting down, you’re socializing… I really like collaborating with other people, teaming up and bringing the art and design and illustration side because I feel like it rounds out that experience and those details,” he added.
But that collaboration means bringing a piece of Norton into everything he designs — and that might require a warning for some clients, he said.
“I try to make sure that they know what they’re getting into — or I guess I should say that most people want to work with me because they’ve seen my other work,” Norton laughed.
“I think when people start to embrace their individuality, it starts making it to where people will hire you to do what you’re best at and what makes you unique,” he added. “Throughout my career I’ve learned to encourage myself to lean more into my own hand and style and things that make me different.”
An uphill battle ahead
Positive feedback and support from key partnerships with organizations like KC-based startup ChowNow, Austin-based Tito’s Handmade Vodka, and local nonprofit Kanbe’s Markets have jump started the campaign and funds being donated, Petrow added, noting the team surpassed $40,000 raised and is nearing the 1,500-shirt mark.
“We’re continually on the lookout for more generous corporate sponsors — their money goes a long way obviously and we’re keeping our ears open for any suggestions for round two of our fundraising merchandise,” she said. “I think we might do a canvas tote or something.”
The project expects to continue even if Stay At Home orders are lifted in the near future, she added.
“These restaurants have an uphill battle ahead of them recovering from their losses over the past couple of months and we want to make sure that their employees are taken care of and we just want to do our part to help support them,” Petrow said.
“I think we’ve all been pretty inspired by the thought of people around Kansas City showing their solidarity and wearing these shirts when we’re allowed to be out and about again someday,” she added. “I think it’ll be really nice for these restaurant owners to see the customers who supported them during all of this so that is our hope.”