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Aaron Franklin’s Hot Luck to benefit restaurant industry workers in need

Matthew Odam
Austin 360
Aaron Franklin (left) and his festival, Hot Luck, have partnered with Houston chef Chris Shepherd.

Aaron Franklin and Houston chef Chris Shepherd have long been friends and admirers of one another, showing up at each other’s events and amplifying each other’s efforts to support those in the restaurant industry. 

Now, the James Beard Award winners, who are arguably the most famous faces from their respective city’s restaurant scenes, are officially teaming up. Franklin and his Hot Luck partners announced this week that Southern Smoke Foundation, the non-profit organization dedicated to helping restaurant industry workers in need, will be the charitable beneficiary of the food and music festival Franklin co-founded in 2016. A portion of all sales generated by Hot Luck going forward will help fund the efforts of Shepherd’s non-profit organization. 

Shepherd, whose Houston restaurant group Underbelly Hospitality operates Georgia James and UB Preserv, founded Southern Smoke in 2015 to support research and awareness for multiple sclerosis as a way to honor his friend and former sommelier, Antonio Gianola. The charity later expanded to serve as a resource to provide financial aid to service industry workers, and last year, spurred by the coronavirus, Southern Smoke established an Emergency Relief Fund that has distributed more than $4 million to workers in need across the nation.

Hot Luck organizers said in a statement that the festival’s “new direction aligns with Hot Luck’s core mission of supporting and empowering the food and beverage industry by providing unique experiences and events that allow guests and friends to benefit from good times and great education while also giving back to the community that makes Hot Luck possible.”

Festival organizers have not yet announced their festival or event plans for 2021 following the cancellation of last spring’s festival. 

Hot Luck is not the only Austin-based backer of Southern Smoke. Tito’s Handmade Vodka, which has been a longtime supporter of both organizations, last year made multiple unspecified “six-figure donations” to the Southern Smoke Emergency Relief Fund, and Hot Luck founding sponsor, Yeti, also made an unspecified contribution to Southern Smoke in conjunction with the festival.

“Aaron has supported Southern Smoke since day one, and I’m so honored that he and the Hot Luck team chose Southern Smoke as their beneficiary,” Shepherd said in a release. Hot Luck is an incredible event, and now, the Hot Luck team is family. Tito’s and Yeti represent the best of Texas—always the first to support, help, and cheer on our industry in every way. Together, there’s so much we can do.”