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May 6, 2021

Restaurant Love Letters: Director & Founder, Rachel Waugh, of the Museum of Food & Culture discusses a new project to show Denver Restaurants some love

TaiMichelle Bickham

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The Museum of Food and Culture is a new museum in Colorado that celebrates and educates on how food is the bridge between history, cultures, and individual stories. We chatted with the museum’s Director and Founder, Rachel Waugh, to discuss the launch of their new project, Restaurant Love Letters, that kicks off this weekend at the South Pearl Street Farmers Market.  

photo of the museum Director and Founder, Rachel Waugh with a cup of coffee.

Hi Rachel! How have you been doing? 

Fantastic! I absolutely love spring in Colorado, so I have been taking advantage of all the nice days and making sure to spend as much time as possible outside with my puppy.

Can you share with us your role and how the Museum of Food & Culture came about? 

I am the Director and Founder of the brand new Museum of Food and Culture based in Denver, CO. The museum is the culmination of my love of food and thinking about history and culture with an interdisciplinary and intersectional lens. Food is something that has always been very central to my life and I am continually fascinated with how different dishes, ingredients, and eating styles have so much history to them. At the Museum, we believe that food can teach us more about who we are, where we’ve come from, and where we are going. And I think that food is one of the best and easiest ways to learn about different peoples, histories, and cultures.

Restaurant Love Letters is a new campaign launching this week at the South Pearl Farmers Market. Can you tell us more about this project? 

Restaurant Love Letters is about supporting local and community food businesses, which were hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. As our world starts to return to “normal,” we want to provide a platform for people to express their appreciation of their favorite restaurants and food businesses - both those still operating and those that have since shut. 

It was incredible to see the outpouring of love in 2020 as people ordered takeout and juggled their budgets to support neighborhood restaurants throughout the pandemic. Unfortunately, so many small food businesses still closed their doors and countless food service workers were laid off. People want to help because these businesses are central to our neighborhoods and daily lives. They provide delicious food, of course, but also friendly conversation, a place to gather with loved ones, and a real sense of community belonging. 

Why did you think it was important to make this something that happened physically at the restaurants? 

With the pandemic and the closure of life as we knew it, I heard over and over again about people missing their favorite coffee shop or how getting takeout was not the same as eating in a restaurant. As a personal anecdote, I remember going to my favorite bakery during its last open weekend and waiting in line for over three hours (mask on, socially distanced) with hundreds of others. People really wanted to show up for the bakery and honor the role that that space and its people had in our lives.

I think it's important to have something taking place in front of the restaurants because people have missed being in those spaces. It’s a way to start to regain that community feeling and do something tangible for businesses we love. There’s something much more gratifying in the sensory experience of writing a love letter than submitting a review online.

picture of a chalk heart the ground

How long is the Love Letter’s campaign taking place in Denver?

The first part of the month long campaign is an ongoing social media challenge where we offer prompts for people to share their stories and appreciation. The second, will be a chalk art and writing activity hosted at South Pearl Farmers Market in Denver. Attendees of the market will celebrate local vendors and businesses with chalk art and chalk love letters. On May 30th, we will host a virtual participatory art wall that brings all of the previous love letters together and has some creative activities for wrapping up the month.

How can the community get involved to support the project? 

If you are able, come down to the Pearl Street Farmers Market on Sunday, May 9. We will be there all day (9 am - 1 pm) handing out chalk and chatting about the museum.

If you can’t make it, we’re asking people to share a story or thank you note on social media using #restaurantloveletters. You can follow the Museum of Food and Culture on Facebook and Instagram for some writing prompts and inspiration.

The Museum of Food & Culture is new to Denver. Can you share what you hope Denverites are able to experience with the museum? 

Wow! First of all, there are so many hopes and dreams for this museum, including getting a space at some point.

Our mission is to inspire curiosity, creativity, and excitement around food, history, and culture and we really take that to heart. Our events have and will approach food from different angles and relating the main theme back to peoples’ lives. The intention is to have people interact with the content (yes, that means there are moments for eating), connect with each other, to participate and share their food stories, and to learn a little more about why we eat the way we do … or don’t. Denver is such a foodie city, I am excited to have people take their joy in eating out, gardening, or cooking and bring it to the museum.

Anything else we should know? Please share! 

Yes, we are entirely volunteer-run, and we are currently looking for volunteers interested in supporting fundraising, marketing, and events. If you are interested, please email me at rachel@museumoffoodandculture.orgLove the idea and want to see more from us? Please consider donating to the Museum. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and 100% of our budget goes directly to the museum operations.