Super Bowl ad encourages 'Love Letters' to restaurants in support of hard-hit industry

This may be the most heartfelt Super Bowl ad to air on Sunday.

Restaurants will have a huge spotlight during the Super Bowl on Sunday with a new campaign that's encouraging fans to send some much needed love and support to the hard-hit industry.

Cointreau teamed up with the Independent Restaurant Coalition to create a debut Super Bowl spot unlike any other, featuring real restaurant industry workers who have been affected by the devastating shutdowns, operational changes and other struggles as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The premium French liquer brand collaborated with the grassroots organization for both the national TV commercial and accompanying digital campaign called "Love Letters."

Pilar Garcia, a Minneapolis restaurant host who appears in the ad, told "Good Morning America" she was "shocked" when she was first called to do the ad.

"Obviously, because it will be airing during the Super Bowl, but, instantaneously, I knew this was my calling. I've been in the restaurant business for over 30 years, and my love runs deep for this industry," she added. "All of us need to do whatever we can to get restaurants and bars the help they need and deserve."

Garcia further pointed to the "integral part" restaurants play in communities adding that "there is too much at stake and the loss would be incomprehensible. Cointreau clearly understands this. I am beyond impressed and thrilled that they are helping the IRC advocate for the industry across the country."

Leading up to the big game, celebrity chefs and Cointreau will encourage fans to write and share their own love letters to restaurants and bars on social media.

The latest jobs report from the Department of Labor showed that 2.5 million restaurant and bar workers remain jobless, and over 1 in 6 restaurants and bars have closed since the pandemic began. Additionally, up to 85% face the risk of permanent closure, according to the IRC.

While companies like DoorDash are promoting their new home goods delivery service rather than restaurants, Cointreau is the only food or drink brand to date that is acknowledging the crisis facing restaurant and bar workers.

Budweiser made a $37 million donation to the Ad Council to refocus the company's Super Bowl investment but directed the funds toward vaccine adoption.

The commercial was produced by creative agency Intuitive Content, founded by four-time James Beard-award-winning TV personality, chef and IRC cofounder Andrew Zimmern. It will run in 15 key regional markets nationwide, on Connected TV and digitally on YouTube and through both paid and owned social channels. Cointreau chose airtime in markets that have been hit the hardest by COVID-19 including Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.

The 30-second ad will encourage viewers to visit to share a simple "Thank You" or a heartfelt "See You Soon" on social media, hashtagging their favorite bar or restaurant with #SaveRestaurants.

Beyond the words of encouragement, each of the posted "Love Letters" will help raise awareness of the plight these small businesses continue to face.

Ann Kim, a Twin Cities restaurant owner who also will appear in the commercial, said that her story is not unique, but she's proud to share it: "There are 11 million people like me working in independent restaurants and bars who aren't confident they'll have a job or a business later this year. Hearing support from the community means so much at a time where things can look bleak."

"We're taking this opportunity to amplify their voices during one of the biggest moments of the year with our emotionally-charged 'Love Letter,' an authentic testament to the industry we love and are committed to see thrive again," Ian McLernon, president and CEO at Rémy Cointreau Americas, said in a statement. "We are thrilled to work alongside the Independent Restaurant Coalition to keep restaurants from disappearing forever."

"People cannot wait to go back to their favorite restaurants and bars when it's safe to do so, but there's no guarantee the people who make those places special will be around," Zimmern said. "We are grateful for the national platform Cointreau has provided and hope this kickstarts a national conversation on the challenges facing the creative and dedicated people who face innumerable challenges navigating the pandemic."