Profiles in Service: Jose Salazar, The LEE Initiative in Cincinnati

/ Foodservice Profiles, Foodservice Tips, Restaurant Tips / April 20

Profiles of Service-Jose Salazar-The LEE Initiative in Cincinnati

A native of NYC with Colombian roots, Jose Salazar has been in Cincinnati for 11 years. He normally spends his time at the three restaurants he owns — Mita’s downtown and Goose & Elder and Salazar in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.

But these are not normal times. Salazar has shifted to serving daily meals to restaurant workers in need thorough his work with The LEE Initiative.

The LEE Initiative — LEE stands for “Let’s Empower Employment” — was co-founded by Lindsey Ofcacek and Chef Edward Lee. In the past, the organization focused on their Women Chef and Youth Hospitality Programs. In light of the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on the foodservice industry, they pivoted to serving immediate needs through a Restaurant Workers Relief Program.

The LEE Initiative in Cincinnati-Kitchen

Mita’s staff prepping meals for impacted restaurant workers.

The not-for-profit began serving meals to foodservice workers out of 610 Magnolia, Lee’s restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky. As The LEE Initiative looked to expand their efforts to new markets, they needed champions in each city. One of their first calls was to Salazar, and they asked him to head up the initiative in Cincinnati. His response: of course!

Salazar’s restaurant Mita’s, like 14 other restaurants across the country, has been turned into a relief center, offering food and supplies to any restaurant worker who has been laid off or has had a significant reduction in hours and/or pay.

The team at Mita’s prepares and packs up to 250 meals a day. These are picked up and taken to go by visitors during a three-hour period every evening. They also provide snacks, beverages and fruit (when available) and essential goods, like diapers, baby food and pantry staples. No food goes to waste; Mita’s finds homes for anything leftover, such as donating it to a local food bank.

Salazar feels that for him giving back helps to combat some of the challenges facing restaurant owners and others in the industry.

“The uplifting part is helping people. It’s easier knowing I’m giving some relief, and it’s keeping me busy. I don’t have as much time to think about the situation which takes some of the stress and anxiety off my plate.”

His staff is also grateful for the opportunity to give back — they all wanted to be there and to help. “They’re there because of their kindness and the sense of gratification we all get by being involved.”

Salazar and his team are willing to serve meals for as long as they can with funding. Donations are key — everything adds up, even contributions of essential goods. Salazar says that if you can’t donate, a letter or email of thanks goes a long way as well.

Learn more about The LEE Initiative and the Restaurant Workers Relief Program by visiting

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We want to hear more stories of people in the foodservice industry making a difference during this difficult time. Reach out to us via email or direct message us on Facebook if you have one to share.

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