From hospital meals to free lunches for students, restaurants’ local impact continues to make a difference even without dining in.
By Zagat Editorial as told to Zagat Stories
The local neighborhood often produces a restaurant’s most loyal customers. The pandemic crisis has brought restaurant operators even closer to their communities—whether that’s the nearest few blocks or a whole section of town. And restaurants are working to return the favor.
Cofounder/co-owner, Mz. Cheezious, Miami
We got together with some friends who do big events and started brainstorming. Who could we talk to? What could we do? How can we help? How can we, you know, maybe pay a bill? We started contacting all of our resources from coast to coast for warehousing, logistics, deliveries, and basically piggybacked onto their company to create a COVID response company. We got our first client three days later, a group called MedRite, and they set up the drive-through testing facility on Miami Beach. There’s about 50 people working there, so every day I feed the entire team, from the parking people to whoever. Six days a week it’s 50 meals a day, so that helps keep a few people involved. And we just started working with Frontline Foods, which is working with José Andrés’ organization. We started delivering to one of the hospitals. We’re doing a three-day rotation, 150 lunches every fourth day.
Founder/owner, Jacob’s Pickles, New York
Before this, we didn’t do any delivery at all. So it was a completely new adaptation for Jacob’s Pickles, it was a new way of doing business. We’re staying open to help out the teammates that need to stay employed. And it’s nice that we’re able to provide a service to the neighborhood, especially during these times. Jacob’s Pickles has become so ingrained in the fabric of the Upper West Side. Just hearing from everybody, the amount of support that we’ve been getting, whether I’ve been receiving messages directly or through social media from people just trying to support us in any way possible—it means everything to me.
President, Kizuki Ramen & Izakaya, Seattle
How do we take care of the community? How do we take care of people? When the schools closed, many of the kids relied on the school lunches—so now we have kids with no lunch. So wherever we had our shops, we informed schools that we’re going to give kids free lunch every day of the week. Even on weekends. For families in need, we just gave them a free lunch. No purchase necessary. It was the least we could do. The first day we started free lunches, this mom rides up on a bicycle, and she walks in, and she comes up to pick up the chicken don for her kids. And I said, “Hey, how’s it going?” She just totally started crying, saying, “Thank you so much for doing this. This is a really hard time. I can’t pay my bills.” That was the moment for me. I’ve got to tell you, that was the moment I was like, we have to do more, however we can help. I saw in her eyes how much that meant for her. It goes down to the core of humanity. We just have to help our community. Bottom line, this is the right thing to do. And I don’t even care what it costs.
Co-owner, Anoush’ella, Boston
The lucky thing is that three years ago, I realized the dine-in business was slowly declining. People were just ordering more and more. One third of our business was delivery. It was pretty well established. Right now, since all the other business is gone, you’re just breaking even. But at least you’re keeping your employees or keeping your brand alive, and that’s good enough for me in the short term. One of the things that restaurants have to do, and one of the things we’re doing, is understanding that a lot of other people have problems. We’re actually giving free food to any employee in the restaurant business who lost their job—if you come in and say you’re out of work and you want some food, we’ll just give it to you for free. In addition, Boston Medical is right next to us—we’re providing $800 in free food to the heroes there. Their families come and pick up the food and go home so they don’t have to worry about making food. We’re also giving 50 percent off to all their employees. This is something that we want to give back to the community. I mean, we’ve been lucky so far. At this point, we just need to look out for everybody.
Founder/CEO, Señor Sisig, San Francisco
We went from five to six food trucks a day, to zero. But the restaurant actually kept going because it’s in the Mission District in San Francisco, where there’s a lot of residential. Normally the trucks weren’t doing delivery, but now we are doing all the delivery. Over the past few weeks we’ve had to pivot our strategy with the food trucks, and I had to locate areas in other communities where we can expand our delivery range. We put a food truck in Oakland last week, which is getting a pretty good response. And then another food truck in Daly City, which is south of San Francisco. It allows us to service more of the peninsula area down there as well. We have those two food trucks, and they’re Monday through Sunday, both lunch and dinner. That’s helped us get our staff back on point, because for a couple of weeks there we didn’t have any hours for our staff. We’re also doing a campaign right now to raise funds so that we can provide meals to some of the people that have been affected by this pandemic, both on the front lines and some of the more lower-income families and senior citizens as well.