HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — Working at a restaurant and being in a band of pirates, is much the same job to Chef Andrew Gruel.

“So many leaders in one place and so many diverse attitudes and mentalities, yet we all come together through this love for hospitality,” said Gruel.

What You Need To Know

  • Chef Andrew Gruel appeared as a judge on Food Network's Food Truck Face Off and as a host of FYI's Say It to My Face!

  • Gruel is the founder, CEO and executive chef of Slapfish, a seafood restaurant franchise based out of Huntington Beach, California

  • Gruel and his wife created an online fundraising campaign to help struggling restaurant workers

  • Their initial goal was to raise $5,000 but have since increased it to $1 million after receiving so much support

In this case, Gruel is the captain and he’s trying to help restaurant industry employees from sinking during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re thinking of families of those who are team members, but we’re also even thinking of the subsidiary families of our contractors and freelancers. The ecosystem is huge and it’s wide,” said Gruel.

He is the founder and CEO of Slapfish Restaurant Group. He opened a location in Huntington Beach in 2012 after running it as a food truck. He says he’s seen how the back-to-back COVID-related shutdowns have impacted the hospitality industry and employees who depend on it.

“My wife and I decided to start the economic relief fund as a result of all the communication we were getting from friends and family within the restaurant industry that either lost their jobs or at least had their hours cut so significantly,” said Gruel.

The couple is trying to fill the hole the government left these workers out of. Gruel also says these workers typically don’t ask for help or aren’t eligible for government assistance for one reason or another.

“Our businesses have been shut down and the very people who are shutting the businesses down, for policy and safety, which we understand. However, they aren’t able to provide us the necessary relief so that we can get through this really tough time and that’s where we stepped up,” said Gruel.

They’ve raised more than $300,000 so far.

“To date, we’ve helped well over 100 people and people are receiving denominations in $601. We want to do $1 more than whatever the government was going to provide all the way up to $2500 or $3000. In those circumstances, we’re either helping a family or we’re also helping food truck owners who are sole proprietors and they are their only source of income,” said Gruel.

He and his wife are vetting applications coming in from all over the country every day, like a mother of two whose hours were cut.

“We used to be open seven days a week, but because of this pandemic we went down to only working three days,” said a woman featured on Gruel’s Twitter page.

While pirates are known for treasure hunting, Gruel says not on this ship.

“None of the money that we raise goes to anybody within our own organization, because we don’t feel that’s appropriate. We’re managing our own house internally and we’re distributing all of the funds externally,” said Gruel.

The acclaimed chef says they’ll take care of their own band of pirates and hope the community will continue to lend a helping hand to their fellow mates.

To help restaurant employees during this tough time, click here.