Churches create Taste of Beaumont for restaurants threatened by pandemic
By Lindsay Peyton
FUMC Beaumont and Trinity UMC have joined forces to encourage congregants to pick up their forks and support local restaurants. Together, the churches created “Taste of Beaumont,” a self-guided culinary tour. Designed to show their love of the city by promoting local eateries, church members want to reinvigorate restaurants whose futures were threatened by the pandemic.
The Rev. Julius Wardley, Associate Pastor at FUMC Beaumont, was aware just how hard the pandemic hit area restaurants, closing doors for months and making business tenuous at best. When he and his wife go out to eat, they try to be intentional and support local businesses.
At the same time, FUMC Beaumont and Trinity UMC were working together around the city during the pandemic and brainstorming ways to do more. “We were trying to find ways to bless our community in this COVID reality,” Wardley said. “How do we help others during this pandemic?”
He envisioned that the two churches could work together and support local restaurants. “Small businesses were getting killed, because of the pandemic,” he said. “As a faith community, we knew we could help.”
The first step was evaluating the idea and deciding how to put it into action. “Let’s articulate the why and how,” Wardley recalled.
He reached out to Rev. David Johnson, Associate Pastor at Trinity UMC, to gauge the church’s interest in banding together to help restaurants in Beaumont. “I said, ‘Yes, for sure,’” Johnson recalled. “Our vision is being a church where no one walks alone. We don’t want these restaurants to walk alone. And a lot of these restaurants have been struggling.”
Job loss in the food industry has been high in the past year, Johnson added. “And a lot of the jobs lost won’t be replaced,” he said. “This affects not just the families who own restaurants, but also all of their employees.”
Doing more together
Acting in partnership appealed to both pastors. “You can do more together,” Wardley said.
“Ministry is better when you can connect with other people, whether that’s nonprofits or other churches,” Johnson added. “We can expand each other’s reach.”
The two churches selected 12 locally owned restaurants. Most of the eateries had opened just before the pandemic started; others were simply struggling to make it through COVID-19. “The majority of the restaurants are next to us downtown or near to where our members live,” Wardley added.
He explained that congregants also shared stories of restaurants in need. “Let’s try to do as many as we can,” he decided.
Then, Wardley visited each establishment, met with owners and learned their histories. He asked, “How can we be a blessing to you?”
“All of them said that they could really use help,” Wardley recalled.
The Taste of Beaumont Passport was created, which individuals can order and visit at their own pace. Each restaurant was given a stamp to mark the booklets.
Johnson said that the passports are popular at his congregation. “We’re getting them in the hands of parishioners,” he added.
Participants are asked to consider leaving a great review for the businesses on Yelp or to share the experience with a picture on Facebook. While a few sentences may seem like a small gesture, Wardley said, these promotions online can do a great deal to promote the businesses.
Wardley also assembled a large group of about three dozen to dine together. They began meeting on May 16 at the first stop, Bruno’s Grill. They also went to Casa Tapatia and are planning a third event in August.
Restaurants on the list also include: Katharine & Company, Chaba Thai Bistro, Current, Chuck’s Sandwich Shop, Two Magnolias, Vautrot’s Cajun Cuisine, Stir it Up Bistro, New York Pizza & Pasta, Boomtown BBQ and JW’s Patio.
“It’s been great to see the reactions of the places, but it’s been good for our group as well,” Wardley said. “Because of the pandemic, they’ve been missing each other so much.”
Now, they have an excuse to get together over a meal. “It’s great outreach to support businesses, and it’s great for us to provide an opportunity for fellowship,” Wardley said.
When members of the community see the passports being stamped, they often ask how to get involved in the Taste of Beaumont, the pastor added. They are invited to join in the fun.
“It’s helping us do some evangelism,” Wardley said. “It’s another way to raise awareness of the church.”
Johnson hopes that the Taste of Beaumont will make participants more aware of those who make and serve their food. “Eating out is usually so much about you,” he said. “But you can start to ask, what’s going on? Who’s hurting in my community? What can I provide?”
He also said the program exemplifies how faith is not confined to time at church. “At the end of the day, I can exercise my faith in every area of my life,” he said. “And that opens all sorts of doors.”
Johnson explained the touchstone for this project is Jeremiah 29:7: “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
He said that the verse is a reminder of how important it is to promote the welfare of the city. He added that when it comes to supporting struggling local businesses, the answer can be as simple as becoming a shopper or a diner.
“This gives you something very possible to do,” he said. “It’s a simple task, a simple ask. It’s meaningful but also doable.”
Johnson encourages other churches to consider starting similar programs to support local businesses. “Any church could do this, any size,” he said.
After all, we all eat out and go shopping. “So make it count for your community,” Johnson said. “Do it in a way that’s a blessing to your city.”