Coronavirus in NYC: Shuttered Restaurants Pivot to Food Relief Efforts – Eater NY

Restaurant News

As job disruptions, school closures, and even soup kitchen shutdowns stoke food insecurity throughout the city — and the bulk of government assistance has yet to come — restaurants are rallying behind community-driven efforts to feed hungry New Yorkers and to help displaced industry workers.

There are funds to help newly laid-off employees, and pay-what-you-can meals for those in need. There are community kitchens, free school lunches, and donations to food banks.

In the past five days, City Harvest received more than 50,000 pounds of food from nearly 50 restaurants, up from an average of 10,000 pounds in a week. The Food Bank of New York also confirmed “a noticeable increase” in donations from restaurants that are now saddled with tons of perishable ingredients. Janice Robinson, the vice president of institutions and partnerships at the Food Bank of NY, tells Eater that they have also received increased requests for food throughout the five boroughs from people whose neighborhood grocery stores have run out of food, as well as from those who used to be served by the soup kitchens and food pantries that are now closed because their volunteer staff were senior citizens.

Some restaurants such as José Andrés’s Mercado Little Spain are converting their spaces into community kitchens to provide takeout meals at a heavy discount or free of charge. In a video tweet, Andrés says “Community kitchens in our restaurants is what we want to do… to make sure we start having a network that we can take care of basic needs in the communities as maybe this virus in the area will increase its rate.” Andrés’ DC and NY restaurants, staffed with a limited number of volunteers, are providing takeout service 12 to 5 p.m. daily.

Rethink Food NYC, a nonprofit focused on channeling unused food toward families in need, is expanding this concept with a city-wide network of 30 restaurants-turned-community-kitchens. Through a “restaurant response program,” the nonprofit is giving 30 restaurants stipends of up to $40,000 each to provide 500 to 1,000 meals per day over the next eight weeks. The meals are intended for people who are currently having trouble with affordable food, and are offered to people for a suggested donation of up to $5, with all the cash circling back into the program.

A plate of clams at Little Tong Noodle Shop that is placed on a window sill

Little Tong Noodle Shop is serving inexpensive meals through a Rethink Food NYC grant
Emmeline Zhao/Little Tong

Little Tong Noodle Shop, the first grantee, just started operating out of its East Village location, which recently closed. They’re serving kung pao chicken breasts, marinated cucumber, and jasmine rice as well as dan dan ground pork ragu, roasted vegetables couscous, and a creamy lemon herb sauce.

Rethink is still taking applications on its website and will be determining the next 29 restaurants by “looking at soup kitchen and community center closures” to assess where the need is greatest. The nonprofit also has its own cafe at 154 Clinton Avenue in the Clinton Hill, where it’s currently serving mole chicken stuffing and sauteed vegetables to neighbors.

Andrés is similarly taking a strategic approach to filling the city’s growing food gaps. His nonprofit World Central Kitchen is partnering with Bronx assembly member Michael Blake to distribute thousands of to-go meals to local families at 17 designated sites at daily scheduled pick-up times. Rethink tells Eater that the group is collaborating with WCK and complementing Andrés’s efforts by focusing on Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.

Many smaller neighborhood restaurants are also stepping up to aid their neighbors in need. Blair Papagni’s Anella in Greenpoint and Jimmy’s Diner in Williamsburg, Anton’s in the West Village, Concettina in Whitestone, and Black Seed Bagels throughout Manhattan are also offering heavily discounted or free meals, intended to help kitchen staff who have lost their jobs, and in some cases to benefit healthcare workers.

FoodtoEat — a company that helps get orders from restaurants owned by immigrants, women, and minorities — is running a campaign where 100 percent of the funds raised will be used to place orders with its restaurant partners such as Ornella in Astoria and Sambuxa NYC, a Sudanese caterer in Brooklyn. The fulfilled orders will then be donated to food banks and charities in need as determined by New York Congresswoman Grace Meng, who is working with FoodtoEat founder Deepti Sharma on this initiative.

“I’m a New Yorker — born and brought up in Queens,” Sharma tells Eater. “The impact to this city is potentially greater than that of 9/11 or the financial crisis [and] recession. I need to do everything I can to help others who call this city home.”

Others have focused specifically on feeding kids, as school closures leave many children in the city without steady lunch. Chicky’s, a peri peri chicken place in Jamaica, Farine Baking Company in Jackson Heights, and the Derossi Global group that owns several lower Manhattan restaurants and bars are all offering free school lunches.

On Tuesday, the restaurant group served mango spice vegetable fried rice with a side salad at Night Music, chilaquiles at Avant Garden, and pasta with marinara sauce, garlic bread, and salad at Mother of Pearl. Ravi Derossi, the head of the Derossi group, tells Eater that he will open his restaurants Ladybird and Honeybees as more kids show up.

“It breaks my heart to think about all the kids in this city who may not have access to any proper meals since all the public schools have closed,” Derossi tells Eater. “I’ve got kitchens, and I’ve got tons of food. I can still afford to keep some of my staff, and I wanted to give them something to do, and I thought let’s all just cook food together and give it away for free.”

Caroline Shin is a food and culture journalist and founder of the Cooking with Granny video and event series, where diverse immigrant grandmothers teach recipes and tell stories.

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