Four months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, nearly half of all residents still have no electricity; in all, the storm has racked up an estimated $95 billion worth of damages for the island. That's something that Michael Dorf, the founder and chief executive of the restaurant and concert venue City Winery, intends to help fix.

At the end of January, as many as 125 executives and middle-level managers at the New York firm will travel to a chain of small farms in the center of the island. There, Dorf explains, they will help clear fields, plant crops, and re-build sheds, while restoring power with portable generators. "This is such a fresh disaster, and it was gut-wrenching to hear the stories," Dorf says.

True to form, the company, which counts more than 1,000 employees across four main locations, is also planning to put on a live show for some 250 local farmers, with complementary food and wine. 

Dorf notes that his decision to help became cemented when tone-deaf video footage emerged of President Trump chucking paper towels at crowds of Puerto Ricans--a move the president has since defended. "It made me want to do everything we could to push this trip," Dorf adds.

It's not the first time that City Winery has shepherded employees to remote locations-- previous locales have included Mexico, Miami, and San DiegoDorf takes the company on an annual retreat, of sorts, to help motivate employees for the year ahead and facilitate a positive corporate culture. "Each year I have a different thematic lens," he explains, such as "filmmaking" (i.e., watching a slew of Robert Altman movies and determining how the director would approach building the company), or "Steve Jobs," in which staffers are asked to examine the company through the eyes of the lauded Apple founder.

In 2018, and in light of the many natural disasters including earthquakes, storms, and terrorist attacks that occurred in the past year, Dorf decided that "philanthropy" would be his theme. He's paying to put his employees up in a hotel--a cost north of $60,000--and partnering with American Airlines to subsidize the cost of some flights. 

As part of the effort, City Winery is partnering with the Puerto Rico-based restaurant 1919 and its executive chef, Juan Jose Cuevas. Together they're working with Visit Rico, a local nonprofit that works with dozens of small farmers across the island. City Winery--which generated some $50 million in revenue last year--has also raised $40,000 in independent fundraising for Puerto Rican residents.

"We're trying to grow this business and move forward," says Dorf, referring to City Winery. To do that, he adds, "we need to look at the importance of community, and what it's like on the ground for those less fortunate."

The article has been updated to correct the spelling of chef Juan Jose Cuevas's name. 

Published on: Jan 18, 2018