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'We're all in this together': Baltimore restaurant raises money for competitors

"That's the spirit of Baltimore," said The Urban Oyster owner Jasmine Norton.
T.J. Smith presents a "Famous Fund" check to a Baltimore restaurant owner.
T.J. Smith presents a "Famous Fund" check to a Baltimore restaurant owner.Courtesy @jimmysseafood / Instagram
/ Source: TODAY

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, restaurants are suffering: Restrictions limit the amount of diners allowed inside a space at any time, and many people are choosing not to go out due to the risks associated with indoor dining.

In Baltimore, Maryland, restaurateur John Minadakis was tired of watching local establishments fail, so he took matters into his own hands and created a GoFundMe to support the city's restaurants and bars.

"I guess I could have just sat back and said, 'You know, I'll just wait for all my competitors to go out of business … (and) when things get back to normal, I'll be the only one left,'" Minadakis, who is the co-owner of Jimmy's Famous Seafood, told TODAY. "But, you know, we had a moral obligation at the end of the day, and we're all in this together."

The GoFundMe started on Jan. 18 with a goal of $100,000, but by Jan. 21, the fund had raised more than twice that amount. Now known as the "Famous Fund" following donations from major names like Baltimore Ravens quarterback Marlon Humphrey, the fund gives large amounts of money to restaurants that apply for the chance to be chosen. The amounts vary but can be as much as $15,000.

In just over a month, the fund has helped more than 30 restaurants and bars in downtown Baltimore and has raised its goal to half a million dollars.

For Pickle's Pub co-owner Tom Leonard, a $15,000 check was a major win for his business. Located right across from iconic baseball field Camden Yards, the bar is usually packed during sports season, but with no fans able to crowd the stands, their sales have been suffering.

"We'd be lucky to get $200 to $300 in sales," said Leonard.

To help his staff get by, Leonard and his business partner gave up their salaries, and when they were given a $15,000 check from the Famous Fund, they gave each staff member a $1,000 bonus to pay it forward.

Jasmine Norton prepares and serves food at a ghost kitchen. Courtesy @theurbanoyster / Instagram

Jasmine Norton, the first Black woman in the country to own an oyster bar, also received a check for $15,000 for her restaurant The Urban Oyster. While she had to close the doors of her restaurant over the summer, she began operating out of a ghost kitchen, which allowed her to keep cooking. When she received the check from the Famous Fund, she too paid it forward.

"Small businesses, especially restaurants, are the pulse of Baltimore," Norton said. "We hire the locals. We give them opportunities. We pour into the community that we live in. We are truly invested and connected with the city that we operate in. And I think that is why the Famous Fund is such a big deal.

"There's other small businesses trying to help another. I saw that, and I understand that, and that's why, when we received our funding, I poured right back into that fund, because I want to see another restaurant come up and survive in this. … That's the spirit of Baltimore."