Restaurants have always played a vital role in their community—supporting others when they needed lifting up or simply providing the space to gather in both the best and worst of times. Even during a raging pandemic that closed over 100,000 of them for good, they reached out and lent a helping hand. Here are some of their stories.
When Texas Took a Hit
In February 2021, a devastating winter storm brought freezing temperatures and snow to many parts of Texas, and an overburdened electrical grid eventually left over 4 million people without power. In addition to the loss of heat, the people of Texas experienced the loss of water as pipes froze and then burst. At one time, an estimated 14 million people were under boil water orders.
Restaurants throughout the state went into crisis mode and reached out to those in need. Whether serving as warming centers and a place to escape the cold with a free cup of coffee or serving up meals for those with no power, operators banded together.
Hestia, an Austin restaurant known for its inventive menu and meticulously sourced products, rallied with over 6,000 free meals.
World Central Kitchen, an organization founded by Chef Jose Andres, has served more than 50 million meals to those in need since 2010. Joining with their Texas restaurant partners led to 17 restaurants producing 8,600 meals for a vulnerable community in San Antonio, 21 restaurants providing meals on a first-come, first-served basis, and 35 restaurants providing around 40,000 meals.
One of these was Austin’s Sala & Betty which delivered an average of 600 meals a day for five days to shelters, churches, and hospitals.
Helping Troubled Youth
The NRA Educational Foundation (NRAEF), the philanthropic arm of the National Restaurant Association, received a $4.5 million grant from the Department of Labor back in 2019. Out of these funds came the HOPES program or Hospitality Opportunities for People Re-Entering Society.
Recidivism rates, people released from prison only to return, are extremely high. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 68% of those released are arrested for a new crime in 3 years, and 77% are arrested and returned to prison within 5 years. Offenders under the age of 30 experience the shortest time to rearrest, only 17 months.
The HOPES program aims to reduce these rates by supplying young adults previously incarcerated with job placement and career advancement.
The NRAEF chose MOD pizza, an artisan-style pizza chain with almost 500 locations, for their first national restaurant partner to implement the program. Beginning in Chicago, a nationwide rollout is expected by the end of 2021.
The program provides legal and educational support, temporary housing and transportation assistance, substance abuse and mental health counseling, health services, and ServSafe training.
Viral Shutdowns and Shortages
Despite the tumultuous effect COVID-19 had on the restaurant industry, operators found a way to support their communities. Whether donating food or other resources that experienced limited supply during the initial months, restaurants found a way to help those in need when they had little to offer themselves. Nation’s Restaurant News reported on a few of these charitable brands.
Ani Ramen House in New Jersey gave away 1,300 free family meal kits that included protein, vegetables, noodles, and broth. Mario Marovic, a Newport Beach restaurateur, gave away 4,000 rolls of toilet paper. Chef Jose Andres turned some of his restaurants in New York City and Washington, D.C. into community kitchens, where they fed people on a sliding scale basis.
Arcana, in Boulder Colorado, also provided meals on a sliding scale option. The community meals included options such as salmon, prime rib, and vegan stew with side dishes, bread, and homemade ice cream.
Others gave food to restaurant employees, some of the hardest hit during the pandemic. Still, others provided free meals to frontline workers and first responders. Panda Express donated $2 million to Feeding America, a nonprofit organization with more than 200 food banks nationwide.
And these are just a few of the many.
Feeding the Hungry
What started as charitable-feeding programs have morphed into additional streams of revenue. Nonprofit groups are turning to restaurants to help feed underserved communities and paying them for it.
Rethink Food, a nonprofit in New York City committed to reducing food insecurity, works with 40 restaurants and has invested more than $10 million since April to feed those in need. World Central Kitchen pays restauranteurs $10 for each charitable meal.
As restaurants begin reopening around the country, communities are giving back by returning to their favorite neighborhood eateries. And the circle continues.