The MFHA's Gerry Fernandez discusses the importance of diversity and inclusion in the restaurant industry

In honor of Black History Month, we continue to recognize the impact of African Americans on our country’s culture and business community. Here, Gerry Fernandez, president and founder of the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance, talks about some of the contributions African Americans have made to our industry. He also discusses the effect of diversity and inclusion on business.

Tell us how African Americans have influenced our industry.
For centuries, Black Americans have made significant contributions to American cuisine and the development of restaurant businesses across the country. Over generations, many foods, recipes and traditions have been passed down, evolving into “Southern” cooking or “Soul Food.” It’s even claimed that African-American flavor profiles had some influence over the original recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Black History Month gives our industry the opportunity to recognize some of our African American pioneers, like Joseph Lee, who invented machinery to make bread crumbs and breading for fried foods, Edna Lewis, who famously ran Café Nicholson in New York City, and Ernie Royal, the owner-operator of Royal’s Hearthside Restaurant in Rutland, Vt. They were just a few of the individuals who helped grow our industry into what it is today – an $825 billion a year business that employs more than 15 million people in more than 1 million locations around the country.

Why is diversity and inclusion important?
Diversity makes sense, but it also makes dollars and cents. Every company leading on culture and inclusion does so because it is the right thing for their businesses. Practicing “inclusive capitalism” means that leaders and organizations create an environment where everyone can add value to their respective brands. Diversity of thought, perspective, and experience make for greatness in business and life.

How can the industry succeed on diversity?
Our industry — the industry of hospitality — has the opportunity to help bring people together, by embracing inclusion and helping our workforce’s next generation build successful and rewarding careers.

How do we attract the next generation of diverse employees?
We must promote career opportunities that exist for everyone. Restaurant ownership is possible through franchising and other means, and we are seeing success. The latest National Restaurant Association research indicates that Blacks, Hispanics, and women are opening restaurants at a faster rate than most all other groups.

Becoming a business owner isn’t easy. It’s not for everyone, but our industry has a good track record of developing minority-owned restaurants. We need to tell that story and show everyone it is easier to achieve than people might think.

Learn more about diversity in the foodservice industry and the MFHA