Teacher hospitality

Empire Slice House gave away thousands of free meals in support of educators and joins businesses in continuing discounts.

click to enlarge Teacher hospitality
Hospitality 84 CEO Rachel Cope

Throughout the nine days of demonstrations at the Capitol during the Oklahoma teacher walkout, local businesses poured onto Lincoln Boulevard to offer free food and drinks to teachers and protesters in need.

Other businesses followed suit, offering educators and public employees discounts.

84 Hospitality Group (Empire Slice House, Gorō Ramen, ¡Revolución!, Easy E Slice Shop and Ponyboy) CEO Rachel Cope began thinking about the educators in her life as the buildup to the walkout began.

“I come from a family of educators, and I remember how hard they worked and seeing that growing up,” Cope told Oklahoma Gazette. “A lot of my family is still in the education field now, and this is for them and all of those people who made me who I am.”

More than just a discount, Cope offered Oklahoma educators a free meal once per day at Empire Slice House, 1734 NW 16th St., on March 27, days before the walkout began on April 2, and continued through its end on April 12. It gives the “hospitality” in the restaurant group’s name a whole new meaning.

Of all the things we’ve ever donated or gifted, this has been the most fulfilling without a doubt.” - Rachel Cope

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In total, the Empire for Education program lasted through April 15 and fed 2,636 teachers for a total of $39,246.75 in donated meals, according to a press release.

“I never dreamed that it would be that many,” Cope said. “I don’t know if I had a figure in my head, but as the number kept climbing, we were committed and going to keep doing it. When you walk in during the middle of lunch during the walkout and you’re seeing these people that have been [at the Capitol] for multiple days and walked from Moore or from Yukon. Of all the things we’ve ever donated or gifted, this has been the most fulfilling without a doubt.”

click to enlarge Teacher hospitality
Gazette / file
Empire Slice House features 17 specialty pizzas on its menu.
Cope will continue to offer a 25 percent discount at Empire to educators for the entire life of the restaurant, and it is something she will consider at other 84 Hospitality locations.

The Empire for Education program led to a packed restaurant, especially during lunch, which is not usually Empire’s busiest time. It added shifts to the front and back of the house to accommodate the large crowds.

Even after giving away nearly $40,000 in donations, Cope said that the giveaway did not have a major negative impact on 84 Hospitality’s bottom line. The first week of the program saw $20,000 worth of donations. She said that enough people came to support the restaurant because of its program that it nearly covered the donations.

“When we added the number back into our sales, everything was still doing well,” Cope said. “We weren’t that far off normal, and I was so surprised. I was relieved in a sense because I was concerned that I was going to cause damage for our costs. We’ve never done it before, and it’s something I hadn’t seen elsewhere, at least for that length of time, and not for free. I’m thankful for every business that did anything.”

Ongoing discounts

Empire Slice House was not alone in offering free meals to educators. Stars & Stripes Pizza gave away a free large pie to educators at its Oklahoma City, Edmond and Norman locations.

Alfredo’s Mexican Cafe, 3409 S. Broadway, in Edmond offered a free dine-in meal to teachers on April 2.

Aly Clark, director of marketing for A Good Egg Dining Group (Iron Star, Cheever’s Cafe, Red PrimeSteak, Republic Gastropub, Tucker’s Onion Burgers, Kitchen No. 324, The Drake Seafood & Oysterette, Barrios Fine Mexican Dishes), said that Iron Star donated catering to feed 45 teachers from Nichols Hills Elementary at a local home.

“Additionally, if our servers noticed [guests] were teachers either by conversation or attire, we would give them an appetizer or dessert on the house as a token of our appreciation,” Clark said.

At Hal Smith Restaurants, Louie’s Grill & Bar locations in Highland Park, 1201 NW 178th St., and Midtown, 1215 N. Walker Ave., are offering educators a 25 percent discount through the end of April.

Big Truck Tacos, Billy Sims Barbecue, Pizzeria Gusto and Hurts Donut Company were among businesses along 23rd Street offering at least 30 percent discounts to teachers, according to News9.

McNellie’s The Abner Ale House in Norman offered a 50 percent discount for teachers on April 9. Interurban locations, Packard’s New American Kitchen and HunnyBunny Biscuit Co. gave away free drip coffee in partnership with Eôté Coffee to teachers during the walkout.

S&B’s Burger Joint and Sunnyside Diner locations will offer teacher discounts through the end of the school year, said Happy Plate Concepts owner Aly Cunningham. S&B’s is offering a 25 percent discount while Sunnyside is giving a 10 percent discount.

“It was so cool that everyone gathered together and said, ‘What can we do to help?’” Cunningham said.

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