BOSTON – House Speaker Robert DeLeo is a competitive man and said he likes to remind people around the country of Massachusetts's "top tier status." But there's one aspect of Massachusetts that DeLeo thinks isn't getting the recognition it deserves – the state's restaurants.
While business leaders ate a breakfast of eggs and toast at the Seaport Hotel on Tuesday, DeLeo announced that the House plans this year to devote $2 million in new Office of Travel and Tourism funding to "help promote our restaurants and encourage farms and food purveyors to find a global audience."
"At a time of uncertainty and change in the restaurant industry, we need to give this vital piece of our civic culture a boost," DeLeo said at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast. "We've all been proud to see a burst of new restaurant activity across Massachusetts, but we've also seen long-established fixtures disappear."
In recent months, staples of the Boston area restaurant scene like L'Espalier, Brasserie Jo and Durgin Park have closed their doors. Restaurant owners have said Boston's soaring rents, the state's rising minimum wage and the establishment of paid sick time and paid medical leave policies – some of which was implemented last year as part of the "grand bargain" law – have made it increasingly hard to operate a profitable restaurant.
On Tuesday, DeLeo highlighted a passage from a story Boston Globe food writer Devra First wrote in August, after nearby Portland, Maine, was named restaurant city of the year by Bon Appetit magazine.
"The Boston area is inarguably home to many wonderful restaurants and a wealth of culinary talent. But when it comes to national recognition, the city is often overlooked," she wrote.
DeLeo said now is the time to "broadcast to the world everything culinary Massachusetts has to offer." He said he plans to convene a task force of "our most talented chefs and marketing minds" to discuss innovation in the restaurant industry, adapt strategies from other states to Massachusetts and to promote best practices among restaurant owners and their marketing teams.
"I know we have some of the best restaurants in the world," DeLeo said. "Now it's time for people to find out."
The speaker also used his annual late winter appearance at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce to remind businesses that the House will again seek to control health care costs this session. He committed Tuesday to "pass legislation this session that will increase consumer transparency of insurance provider networks."