2020 has been a year of unprecedented difficulty and transformation for the world, with the restaurant and bar community being especially hard hit. The COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the entire food ecosystem from farmers and purveyors who suddenly lacked businesses to supply, to restaurants and bars being forced to lay off staff and close doors, to food banks with double the mouths to feed and fewer resources to do so. In addition to this, a historic social justice movement grew, fighting against police brutality, the inequality that pervades American society and hinders the Black community, and the systems that uphold white supremacy. But in the face of adversity, unsuspecting heroes emerged. This was a moment unlike any other for the hospitality industry to take matters into their own hands. So here at Thrillist, we couldn’t close out 2020 without taking a moment to look back and acknowledge the brave people who, despite their own personal setbacks this year, pivoted their lives to step up, go beyond, and make change.
While we can’t possibly honor the thousands of people who might be worthy of praise this year—from restaurants that stayed open to feed nearby health care workers to tireless food delivery people putting their lives at risk for months on end—these honorees are representative of the inspiring acts we saw all year long across micro communities and multiple fronts, including COVID relief, food insecurity, social justice and mental health/education. In order to put Heroes together, we sourced nominations from our curated group of industry-expert panelists (featured below), in addition to Thrillist readers, staff and contributors.