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Restaurants Across the Country Are Stepping Up to Feed Healthcare Workers on the Front Lines

The hospitality industry has retooled to help doctors and nurses fighting Covid-19.

herbfarm woodinville Photo: courtesy Herbfarm

For restaurants and their workers, the social distancing measures meant to curb the spread of Covid-19 have been crushing. The outbreak has forced numerous restaurants from coast to coast to shutter, while others have pivoted to takeout and delivery operations only, employing bare-bones staff in an attempt to stay afloat. However, during this time of unprecedented financial uncertainty for themselves—as well as the same health concerns facing everyone—a wave of restaurants and chefs across the nation are stepping up to feed the healthcare workers on the front lines of the pandemic.

“Since the crisis began, we’ve been cooking free meals for L.A. doctors, nurses and emergency medical workers,” says chef Daniele Uditi of Los Angeles-based pizzeria Pizzana. “We called upon our friends and customers to help us and have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support—raising over $36,000 in only a few days.”

The good news: What’s happening at Pizzana is playing out at a growing number of restaurants nationwide—from fine dining establishments to fast casual eateries. They’ve tapped the power of social media to crowd-source funding to support initiatives to keep hospital staff fed while picking up the tab.

Outside Seattle, The Herbfarm has reinvented itself by delivering three-course meals nightly to medical teams battling the pandemic. Fueled by more than $100,000 in donations to its GoFundMe campaign, the Woodinville, Wash. restaurant has served more than 2,000 meals to area hospitals and hopes to continue the effort for as long as needed. 

Since New Orleans has emerged as a hotbed of coronavirus activity, chef Alon Shaya has sent food from his modern Israeli restaurant, Saba, to the doctors, nurses, and staff in the ERs and Covid-19 units at Ochsner Medical, and has delivered his famous hummus and pita to hospital residents through the NOLA Doc Project. And in Denver, Shaya’s Safta team has dropped meals at Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center.

In Boston, the Little Donkey crew has teamed up with Off Their Plate to provide food for healthcare workers and safely keep some of their staff employed. “As chefs, we don’t feel fulfilled unless we are cooking for others, and as employers, it’s our job to find ways to support and care for our teams during this time,” shared chefs and co-owners Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette. “We have family who are doctors and we have staff who we consider family. Being a part of this initiative was a no brainer.”

little donkey boston

Little Donkey in Boston has been cooking for area hospitals.  Photo: courtesy Little Donkey

James Beard Award-winning chef Steven Satterfield of Atlanta-based Miller Union has received funding from the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm to prepare dinners for two for Emory Healthcare workers. “The best part is knowing that we are making a difference in the lives of the front line healthcare workers that are risking their lives to save others and sending them home with the gift of good food,” says Satterfield, who added that the initiative allows some of their staff to stay on payroll and helps support local farmers, who are feeling the effects of the COVID-19 crisis, as well.

Efforts like these are happening in all corners of the country. Sbe CEO Sam Nazarian helped deliver dozens of meals from the newly launched Sam’s Crispy Chicken to ER doctors and nurses at UCLA Medical Center with more deliveries in the works. Katsuji Tanabe’s newly opened High Horse in Raleigh, North Carolina, serves complimentary coal-roasted chicken and black angus beef with beans, rice and salsa to first responders and medical personnel. Oath Pizza has utilized its food truck to distribute more than 200 free pies to the staff at four Boston hospitals. And across the country, chef José Andrés’s disaster relief organization World Central Kitchen is creating commissary kitchens to feed medical professionals.

Efforts to feed hospital workers have grown significantly in New York. As the city quickly became the epicenter for the coronavirus pandemic in America, just as quickly, many of the New York’s restaurants began working tirelessly to make an impact. 

Under normal circumstances, 886 is a vibrant Taiwanese eatery on St. Mark’s Place, but it’s become a full-on bento box operation. Owners Andy Chuang and chef Eric Sze started offering takeout bentos and beef noodle kits as a means to support their staff financially. When customers began to donate money, they put it towards sending free meals to Weill Cornell and New York Presbyterian. Posting about it on Instagram led to hundreds of donations pouring in—and the initiative exploded from there. Now, more than 1,000 bento boxes have been delivered to eight NYC hospitals. “Seeing more and more colleagues bring food to health care professionals truly restores our faith in humanity. Proud to be a small part of this large movement. In this time of crisis, no health care worker should worry about food. Your donations keep us going!” shared 886.

In Harlem, FieldTrip chef-owner JJ Johnson provided his specialty rice bowls to the staff at Harlem Hospital Center, one of New York’s official coronavirus testing sites. Johnson tweeted, “Each day we’ll pick a hospital close by @fieldtripharlem to help out.” A few minutes later, a Twitter follower ordered 170 rice bowls—and a movement began, as highlighted in the New York Times.

Hannah Cheng, of the popular dumpling shop Mimi Cheng’s, kept hearing about doctors, nurses and hospital staff fighting COVID-19 in NYC without proper protective equipment and relying on meals from vending machines. “We were not going to let our healthcare teams fight this battle hungry,” she told us. The “response has been overwhelming” to their “Dumplings for Doctors” GoFundMe page.

After Aussie-inspired cafe Ruby’s made deliveries to NYU Langone, their “Empty Your Purse to Feed a Nurse” GoFundMe ticked over $20,000 in just four days. “It’s inspiring to see New York City come together in such a time. We feel so humbled by the support we have received and the gratitude of everyone we have delivered to so far,” said operations manager Liam Johnson.

pizzana

Chef Daniele Uditi delivers Pizzana to UCLA.  Photo: courtesy Pizzana

Not many foods can provide comfort like New York pizza does. Sauce Pizzeria is doing at least three drops a day to local hospitals and plans to keep the daily operation going through the entire crisis. Additionally, Sauce is matching the number of pizzas for each order made—so if you order one pie, they’ll deliver two.

Thankfully, more and more restaurants are joining the crusade. 12 Chairs Cafe is feeding upwards of 60 hospital staffers at a time, many who have to pull all-nighters at the ER of Weill Cornell Medicine. Regina’s Grocery partnered with local organization Streetwork Project to enable individuals to donate for direct distribution of their Italian sandwiches and much-needed supplies across the city. A team from Fields Good Chicken is delivering meals to NYC hospitals and will continue to do so for as long as they can. 

Chef Maria Loi of Loi Estiatorio has partnered with Globe Trotters to provide meals to hospital staff. And Dig Food Group launched Dig Feeds, an initiative to combat local food insecurity. Every time someone orders an online delivery, the company will donate at least one meal to hospital workers, elderly communities and food banks. “More than 75,000 meals were donated in the first week,” said Taylor Lanzet, Dig’s head of supply.

In the coming weeks, the meals these restaurants have been delivering will only become more necessary, while the number of cases grow across the country. As medical professionals on the front lines keep working long, grueling shifts, they’re going to continue needing all the help they can get.

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