"I got an email from Barclays and almost deleted it thinking it was a credit card offer,” says Bob Burke, owner of beloved Providence bistro Pot au Feu. Like so many in the restaurant industry, the pandemic hit Burke’s business hard and despite all kinds of ingenious initiatives and pivots, survival hasn’t been a cake walk. However, Burke did open the email from the UK-based bank and turns out it was a call for entries for their Small Business Big Wins contest.
The communication invited small business owners to submit an essay (up to 500 words) and a photograph detailing their personal tale of how the events of good ol’ 2020 affected their livelihoods and the plucky ways in which they responded. The entry period was brief – October 8 to the 31st. Having met the eligibility criteria, which included employing fewer than 100 people and being located in the US, Burke got busy on the quick for the chance to win cash prizes up to $50,000.
“The words just flowed,” begins Burke of composing the essay, which reads like a free verse poem. “There was so much pent-up frustration and pain. But once I began to gather all that happened in my mind, the ‘fog of war’ began to clear and I realized how many comrades in arms I wanted to thank.”
Once all entries were received by Barclays, they were evaluated by a panel of judges based on benchmarks such as appropriateness to the theme, demonstrations of perseverance and innovation, and how the money would be spent. Next, a Top 10 was assembled; nominees were announced with a final round of public voting on the Barclays website for just 10 days in December to determine the winners. As one of the finalists, Burke began making the local news and later that month, all winners were notified and then announced publicly. Pot au Feu won Second Place, garnering a prize of $25,000. Burke notes that his entry received votes from 19 countries around the world and more than 16,000 votes in all.
The restaurateur known for being skilled at slicing the top off a bottle of Moët et Chandon champagne with a cavalry saber notes that all of the funds will go directly to payroll “to keep our amazing staff working.” With a bright smile, the man whose past year has endured an actual dumpster fire and boarding up windows at the 1875-built spot says, “I had a George Bailey moment and all I can say is it’s a wonderful life,” referencing the classic Frank Capra film. “We owe everything to the faithful customers who have been coming for 48 years. No one who has friends is a failure.”