John Rivers, founder, CEO and chef of 4Rivers Smokehouse, and Brendan O’Connor, editor-in-chief at Bungalower, discuss how the business community is fostering partnerships to help tackle the economic realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Orlando Economic Partnership’s top priority is to keep the business community informed and prepared and help individuals and organizations obtain the needed resources currently available as we all navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Responding to COVID-19 Webinar Series: Community Action and Support is the fourth installment of a series of webinars focused on sharing guidance on how best to respond to the realities of COVID-19. In this webinar, John Davis, Orlando Regional Chamber executive vice president, and Laureen Martinez, Partnership senior director of marketing and communications, host John Rivers, founder, CEO and chef of 4Rivers Smokehouse, and Brendan O’Connor, editor-in-chief at Bungalower, for a discussion on how the business community is fostering partnerships to help tackle the economic realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and how residents can support local companies.

John Rivers shared information about how his 4 Roots organization is working with Orange County Public Schools and the Department of Agriculture to “fill the family gap” by providing meals for families at no cost through their Feed the Need initiative. Brendan O’Connor will share details on how the community can support our local businesses and how to participate in the #PickUpOrlando challenge.

For in-depth information and resources for your business’ responses to COVID-19, please visit Online Business Resource Center at

Key Takeaways

Local businesses such as 4Rivers Smokehouse and Bungalower are using the pandemic to explore unique ways to grow revenue and support the Orlando community.

Seeing an opportunity and getting creative

With disruption in areas such as revenue and staff, finding new ways to generate business has never been more difficult. Looking at the brighter side of things, John Rivers, founder, CEO and chef of 4Rivers Smokehouse views interruption of normal operations as opportunity to take a step back and evaluate his business. COIVD-19 created a window for businesses to review where they struggled and come up with solutions to fix these issues.

Businesses need to be constantly thinking about challenges and opportunities that could be coming each week. Where can we find work? Where are opportunities that exist today that didn’t exist previously? What barriers will our consumers be facing in two weeks? Forward creative thinking helps open the door for opportunity and thinking outside the box in order to stay afloat.

Feed the Need Florida

The Florida Department of Agriculture’s Simmer Food Service Program provides funding to distribute breakfast, lunch and dinner to students in need. 4Rivers Smokehouse saw this as an opening to help the community while helping their business too. At first, 4Rivers worked with Orange County Public Schools to cover areas without representation in order to create meals to distribute to hungry students. In seven different locations, 4Rivers was able to serve around 11,000 students per day with free, reimbursable meals. Creating this network allowed 4Rivers to bring back employees they previously let go and continued to grow to the point they brought other restaurants in to help as sub-contractors under the blanket agreement.

When serving, 4Rivers noticed that these cars coming for meals had hungry students and hungry family members as well. This led to the creation of Feed the Need Florida.

Feed the Need Florida founded by 4Rivers Smokehouse now joins meal program sites to provide full meals for siblings, parents, grandparents, and caretakers. Seeing the opportunity and entering a field the organization might never have experienced prior allowed 4Rivers to make a positive impact in the Orlando community while keeping their business open.

To donate food, donate money or to get involved please visit

Hyperlocal news organizations and their role in community journalism

Organizations such as Bungalower that provide hyperlocal news found a heavy increase in traffic as a result of COVID-19. Being able to provide the community with up-to-date information and adapting to the changing needs of the community allows for success in their industry.

In response to the pandemic, Bungalower now finds helping facilitate people’s stories is where they find success. Social media is a key element in spreading a business’s message and Bungalower is the type of organization that helps provide guidance and tools for success for those who do not have full capabilities. They want to help businesses push good quality digital content through honesty and accessibility for the betterment of the community.

To find up to date news around the Orlando community visit

Community response

In troubling times, finding new ways to continue to engage and promote a communal presence helps push positivity. People by nature want to help as much as they can for the betterment of the community. This reason is exactly why interactive campaigns such as #PickUpOrlando help promote and support local business.

If it is within budgetary restrictions, be sure to spend money locally to help keep our Orlando businesses open.

About the Guest Speakers

John Rivers
Founder & CEO, 4R Restaurant Group & The 4Roots Farm 
Retiring as president of a $1.5 billion dollar company, John Rivers left a career of twenty years in Healthcare to pursue a lifelong dream of opening a restaurant. In 2009 John created his first concept, 4 Rivers Smokehouse, which quickly became one of the fastest growing restaurants in the southeast. With seventeen locations in Florida and Georgia, the success and popularity of his 4 Rivers Smokehouse and his second and third concepts, the Southern-inspired COOP, and Latin influenced Cantina Barbacoa at Disney Springs have garnered national recognition. MSN named 4 Rivers as the #1 BBQ restaurant chain in the country, Southern Living dubbed 4 Rivers as the top BBQ in the South, and Nation’s Restaurant News recognized 4 Rivers as a top five breakout brands.  Restaurant Business named John as one of the Power 20 Leaders in the restaurant industry, Orlando Magazine included him among Orlando’s “50 Most Powerful, 15 to Watch”, the OBJ named John the Philanthropist of the Year, and John has twice been named a finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.  

John has twice been invited to cook at the prestigious James Beard House in New York City and has enjoyed participating in Food Network’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival for the last 8 consecutive years.  He has appeared on numerous television shows and has been featured in national publications including Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, USA Today, Business Insider and Cooking Light Magazine.  John authored his first book, “The Southern Cowboy Cookbook” and launched a line of retail and manufactured products currently enjoying shelf space at Publix & Costco and being distributed nationally by partners such as Sysco & US Foods. 

A graduate of Florida State University College of Business, where he serves on the Board of Governors, John chairs both the 4R Foundation and the 4Roots Farm and is co-founder of Winter Park’s largest culinary festival; “Cows ‘n Cabs”.  John lives in Winter Park with his wife Monica and two children, Jared and Cameron where he serves on the boards of numerous school, church, and charity organizations.  

Brendan O’Connor
Editor-in-Chief, Bungalower
“Brendan O’Connor is a transplanted Canadian who grew up in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario and graduated from Rollins College with a degree in Environmental and Growth Management Studies. He came to Orlando via Le Cellier Steakhouse, the Canadian restaurant in EPCOT, and then never found his way back North. During the day, O’Connor sits at the helm of Bungalower Media, a hyper-local media company that  focuses on Orlando’s downtown “bungalow” neighborhoods. You can see him on FOX 35’s “Good Day Orlando,” hear him on Real Radio’s “Bungalower and the Bus,” as a regular guest on “The Jim Colbert Show,” and WUCF PBS’s “NewsNight,” and read his work daily on”