Community Impact Grants
Celebrating Dining Destinations
Grant helps unique eateries
Restaurant ownership is one of the toughest and most challenging careers due to long hours, high operating costs, and employee turnover.In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic heaped on even more challenges with supply chain issues, staffing shortages, and health mandates. To lend a helping hand to hospitality businesses, this year the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce teamed up with Grubhub to provide assistance to LGBT!+-owned and ally eateries. The Community Impact Grant program was developed to help mitigate the effects of the pandemic and provide grants from $5,000 to $100,000. On June 27, four North Texas LGBT Chamber members received the grants. Here are their stories:
Name: Salum Restaurant
Owner: Abraham Salum
Founded/Opened: Sept. 1, 2005
Cuisine: Continental Cuisine
• Cocktail: Martinis
• Entree: Rack of Lamb with truffle crust
• Dessert: Bourbon bread pudding
For almost 17 years, Abraham Salum has owned and operated Salum Restaurant on Cole Avenue in Dallas. It’s a goal Salum set for himself in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as he pursued his culinary school studies.
A native of Mexico City, Mexico, Salum attended school in Vermont before completing an internship in southern France. In 2000, he moved to work at a restaurant in San Antonio. A year later he moved to Dallas to work for Parigi. Four years later, he left to open his own restaurant.
“It was always a goal, [and] I knew it would take a while,” Salum said. “It worked out that the right time was 2005.”
Beyond personal goals, Salum was inspired to open his own business thanks in part to his father’s influence on giving back to the community.
“I feel confident people will have a good meal and enjoy themselves,” Salum said. “This is my vehicle to give back to the community at large.”
Salum said he considers his 20 staff members a second family, with many serving for most of the 17 years. While there has been a recent shuffle in the back of house thanks to the pandemic, Salum said his “newest” front of house staff joined the team four years ago.
With a menu featuring “continental cuisine,” Salum changes the featured items each month. He hopes the eclectic offerings not only provide an upscale place to celebrate special occasions, but also somewhere locals will want to frequent for an everyday meal.
The menu always includes a variety of dishes featuring beef, seafood, and pasta. Everything revolves around fresh, in-season ingredients.
The beauty of owning a restaurant is you can play around with the menu,” Salum said. “It can feature Latin, Mexican, Peruvian, or Asian flavors. It gives me an excuse to make whatever I feel like eating.”
While some patrons really enjoy the ever-changing menu, others prefer to know their favorites will always be available to order, Salum noted. A few items always available include the restaurant’s signature dish – a rack of lamb with truffle crust and a savory mushroom bread pudding; along with their classic bourbon bread pudding for dessert.
Salum said the Grub Hub/NGLCC Grant, first and foremost, is a validation of what the chamber of commerce does best – provide help for LGBT-owned restaurants.
“It is so special, and out of the blue,” Salum said. “It was very special that they did this for us.”
He plans to use the grant to replenish savings used during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some funds will help with operating expenses.
Ultimately, Salum said owning a restaurant has taught him to be patient and kind. He’s also learned to “roll with the punches,” knowing plans can be made, but change is inevitable.
“You also need to take care of your people,” Salum said. “This includes both your guests and your staff.”
Owner: Kristy Pitchford
Founded/Opened: Nov. 15, 2016
Cuisine: High-end comfort food
• Cocktail: The Diamond Butt Stallion cocktail
• Entree: Bricks Chicken
• Dessert: 7th Level Banana Pudding
Since November 2015, Kristy Pitchford has strived to create an environment that welcomes everyone in the community and would also be a destination point, filled with food that was hard to find elsewhere in North Texas, along with a fun environment that appeals to a broad cross-section of the community.
Enter Nerdvana, a restaurant that allowed Pitchford to develop a space where creative individuals can flourish and everyone is welcome to express their own unique identity.
“In Nerdvana’s case, that creativity is expressed through both our innovative recipes, plating, and design,” Pitchford said. “I’ve also had a long love affair with video games, so incorporating that medium was a natural fit.”
Nerdvana is a scratch kitchen and craft bar with a focus on the celebration of video game and board game culture.
“All of our food is made to order in our scratch kitchen,” Pitchford said. “Quality takes time so enjoy our gaming selections while our nerds in the kitchen upload a one-of-a-kind dish just for you.”
The gaming includes playing the latest four-player madness, a new tabletop experience, or a retro classic all from your table, thanks to Nerdvana’s curated library of digital and cardboard goodness.
“If you look at North Texas, there’s truly nowhere like Nerdvana,” Pitchford said. “It’s a unique restaurant with top-quality food and drinks. That’s truly what’s kept us open and going since day one. I’m proud that we can combine that with an incredible team who welcomes everyone who comes in the door.”
A strong ally, Pitchford said many of her team members identify within the LGBTQIA+ community.
“Owning the restaurant gives me the power to create a safe space and a place where folks – both customers and team members – feel comfortable,” Pitchford said. “So many times I’ve seen bad behavior and belittling language used in other restaurants. At Nerdvana, my team and customers know that I and my management team won’t tolerate it.”
Pitchford said receiving the GrubHub/NGLCC Grant is an “incredible validation” of the type of environment she strives to promote at Nerdvana.
“My team and I are incredibly thankful to GrubHub and the NLGCC for this grant and sign of confidence and respect,” Pitchford said.
“I’m honored to be considered an ally.”
The team atmosphere, where everyone is like family, is part of the reason the restaurant survived the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My team continued getting full pay checks after the pandemic began even when we made the difficult decision to close for a while, because we wanted to look after each other,” she said. “We did it by extending grace to each other, but also the support of the community that came back in big numbers when we opened again.”
Her future plans include opening a new Nerdvana restaurant in Rochester, New York, the home of the Strong National Museum of Play.
“It’s a great venue that honors play and has some great video game exhibits,” Pitchford said. “Because of that video game emphasis, it was a natural jump for us to have our video game-themed restaurant there.”
Ultimately, Pitchford said, Nerdvana is not the work of one person, but rather a team who supported the vision and idea of a restaurant.
“I want people to have a great time with fantastic food and knowing that we want them to come back for another awesome experience,” Pitchford said.
Name: Steves’ Market & Deli (SM&D)
Owner: Steve Puckett and Steve Harris
Founded/Opened: Nov. 26, 1996
Cuisine: Casual American with Latin influences
• Entree: Handmade soups/sandwiches
• Dessert: Homemade desserts
On Nov. 26, 1996, the Steves (Steve Puckett and Steve Harris) opened Steves’ Market & Deli. It’s a date the men remember well, because it’s the birthday of their personal hero, Tina Turner.
The restaurant, a “locally grown” and “green facaded” LGBT-owned place, is housed in a 1928 row building in the heart of Brownwood, was more than a year in the making, as Puckett and Harris spent a full year working full-time jobs while renovating the space.
“We had spent part of the year prior to our opening helping friends around the corner operate a small coffee shop, and saw there was an untapped market in this area,” Puckett said. “When the owners of this small coffee shop decided to close their doors, it afforded us the opportunity to step up and fill the void.”
Puckett said the focus of Steves’ Market & Deli revolved around continuing the things they learned from them – high-quality coffee and tea beverages along with limited food options – while expanding the menu to include high-quality sandwich options along with salads, hand-made soups, black beans and rice, and handmade desserts.
It also gave the men the freedom to be creative, in a way not matched in other settings. Harris said the deli has also given them a chance to develop personal relationships and friendships with their guests for the past 26 years.
“Brownwood is a town with a rich history of colorful characters,” Puckett said. “[We have] embraced this history with our menu. Our legendary club sandwiches (The Coach Paul Tyson, The Rae Bourbon, The Morris Kight, and The Neva Paris) recognize the often 'out of sight' and 'colorful' forgotten local history.”
Puckett said receiving the Grub Hub/NGLCC grant has given the men a boost in morale, as well as a needed financial shot in the arm.
“Survival through COVID-19 meant taking on additional debt during a time of reduced business,” Puckett said. “Add to that the recent failure of our elected officials (Cruz and Cornyn) to re-fund the SBA Restaurant Revitalization Act we were approved for, this grant throws us a lifeline and allows us to breathe a little easier knowing we won’t have to take on even more debt.”
Both men said they have learned to be more flexible and to communicate with each other on a deeper level.
Ultimately, Harris said, he’s learned to model Eleanor Roosevelt’s words “to handle yourself, use your head; to handle others use your heart.”
Operating during COVID-19 added stressors to the business, as the men struggled to juggle supply chain issues and the need to restructure from being a dine-in locale to a take-out-only form of operation.
“We pivoted rather quickly, one week ahead of the Governor’s mandate,” Puckett said. “We moved to a take-out only model of operation. We purchased three picnic tables for sidewalk dining options to meet social distancing protocols.”
They successfully advocated for city leaders to establish on-street take-out zones for several of the eateries, including their own.
“We also successfully advocated for a city-funded/administered business continuity COVID grant for small businesses like ours,” Puckett said. “In addition, we extended our deli hours of operation, by almost double, in an effort to make up for lost revenue.”
So instead of being open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday, the hours were expanded to 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. They also included an occasional limited meal offerings on Sunday and pick-up dinner options on Friday and Saturday evenings.
“We were able to keep this pace up for the first four months of the pandemic,” Puckett said. “The reality of being a two-person operation meant we were spread too thin with this model, and we ultimately had to scale back.”
Now, looking towards the future, the men hope to continue to grow and thrive in the future.
“We are truly owner/operators,” Puckett said. “What people get when they come to our place is us. We don’t turn over operations to anyone else, and we’ve found there is a great appreciation for this approach.”
Name: Savorista Kitchen & Catering
Owner: Lydia Gonzalez, chef
Founded/Opened: January 2015
Cuisine: American w/Latin twist
• Cocktail: All Natural Margarita Mixes
• Entree: Salmon dip, Latin Meatballs and
Texas Beef Cake
• Dessert: Flan
In January 2015, Lydia Gonzalez took her 2-year-old catering business to the next level, as she opened a cafe in the old Pizza Hut headquarters in Addison.
It meant taking her business in a new direction – and crafting a menu beyond event catering, but it’s one Gonzalez did with a flourish because it taps into her passion – entertaining.
Her newest location, near the Galleria for casual dining, opened this summer. She continues to operate another Cafe on East Las Colinas in Irving.
Gonzalez’s foray into cooking came about as she was a producer for one of the first nationally televised shows. When the recession hit in 2008, she found her career moving away from media and into the food industry.
She began renting a kitchen three-days a week to prepare food for friends, family and customers. Her goal – to always produce products from fresh, clean food with her Latin-based seasonings.
“I tried to keep things as simple as possible,” Gonzalez said. “Everything with a Latin flair.”
For example, her meatballs are made with a mixture of onions, tomatoes, and jalapenos, and served with a green sauce, rather than the traditional marinara. Her Texas beef cakes are made using a potato cake infused with brisket.
For new chefs hoping to break into the field, Gonzalez suggests getting a mentor, to help provide seasoned advice and help. She also recommends finding a niche, to prevent them from being stretched too thin.
“Find qualified people who really love what they are doing as an art form,” Gonzalez said. “If they love it, it’s ingrained in their work, and their respect for the ingredients.”
Gonzalez said she felt “over the moon” to receive the Grub Hub/NGLCC grant.
“I still can’t believe it,” she said. “It validates the journey I’ve made as a chef in a very competitive field.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gonzalez shut down one of her locations, choosing to turn her focus from providing catering for corporate events to smaller venues.
“The global pandemic changed the entire world,” she said. “But we made it out alive and we’re expanding again, which is so exciting.”
Looking to the future, Gonzalez has established the Latino Culinary Institute & Association, a nonprofit designed to train people in the culinary industry. She hopes it will help train a new workforce needed, in part, due to shortages caused by the pandemic.
“I’m initially focusing on women’s training programs, specifically working with moms through a 10-week basic training program,” Gonzalez said, adding she hopes to launch a full kitchen, where the training will take place.
Her son, Garrett, has also joined her in the venture, as he trains to become a chef as well.
She knows what sets her business apart from others is truly word of mouth – as people taste the difference in her food.
“My customers know I’ll take care of all of the details,” she said of her catering ventures. “I tell them to take care of their guests, and we’ll take care of everything else.”
Ultimately, Gonzalez hopes her guests through both the restaurant and catering venues leave happy and satisfied with the quality of food and customer service.
“I’m so grateful for the LGBT Chamber, to be able to receive this grant. It will really help as we open the new restaurant and train people for my nonprofit,” Gonzalez said. “I love being able to support all communities.”
The Affiliate Chamber Fund
The North Texas LGBT Chamber of Commerce is a member of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce network, which helped amplify this grant opportunity to support local restaurants. The Chamber also benefits from the initiative’s new Affiliate Chamber Fund. Any grant recipient establishment that is not currently a member of an NGLCC local affiliate chamber will receive a one-year paid membership to their local chamber.
“During the pandemic, we worked to support businesses throughout the community with important information on wellness and emergency funding in addition to distributing hundreds of COVID-19 test kits, but we were unable to do direct funding,” said Tony Vedda, President & CEO, North Texas LGBT Chamber of Commerce. “Fortunately, Grubhub stepped up in a huge way, partnering with the NGLCC and the Affiliate Chambers, like ours, across the country. Through the Affiliate Chamber Fund, we will also be able to engage new members and offer the businesses ongoing support. We are grateful for this remarkable grant investment in these businesses and the Chamber.”