Coronavirus Diaries From the C-Suite

Tom Colicchio Spent 19 Years Building a Restaurant Empire. Coronavirus Gutted It in a Month.

What it’s like to lay off nearly 300 employees—and rethink unchecked capitalism

Aaron Gell
Marker
Published in
8 min readMar 27, 2020

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Courtesy of Tom Colicchio

TTom Colicchio, award-winning restaurateur, Top Chef head judge, and food activist, founded the beloved Manhattan restaurant Craft in 2001, quickly snagging three stars from the New York Times and helping to popularize farm-to-table dining. After New York was attacked on 9/11, Craft not only survived, but in the ensuing 19 years, it spawned a fine-dining mini-empire, with several outposts in New York, another in Los Angeles, and two in Las Vegas.

Now New York is facing another unthinkable catastrophe — this time, along with the entire world — and the restaurant industry is threatened as never before. Last week, Danny Meyer, Colicchio’s one-time partner, shut down all 19 of his storied establishments, laying off 2,000 people — some 80% of his workforce. Thomas Keller furloughed 1,200. And Colicchio has done the same, laying off all but a few of his 300 employees.

Recognizing an existential crisis for his industry — with many other sectors of the economy sure to follow — Colicchio has turned his attention to defending independent restaurants and their 11 million employees around the country from total devastation. The provisions he fought for were passed by Congress earlier this week. If there’s any lesson to be learned from the crisis, he says, it’s that unchecked capitalism — from the obsession with quarterly earnings to the profits-at-any-cost mentality of our captains of industry — has failed us. Perhaps a more thoughtful approach awaits us on the other side. He shared his experience with Marker.

— As told to Aaron Gell

I’I’m a news junkie, so I was aware of what Covid-19 was doing to China, and about a month ago I started to realize it had a real potential to spread around the world. I had seen Bill Gates talk about this, and it was clear we weren’t prepared, especially given how contagious this virus seemed to be. Meanwhile, we saw the leadership of the country in total denial. Listening to the president downplay the danger, I thought, “We’re screwed…

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Aaron Gell
Marker
Writer for

Medium editor-at-large, with bylines in the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, the New York Times and numerous other publications. ¶ aarongell.com