Like many small business owners, Tiffany MacIsaac had to lay off her staff this week. MacIsaac is the kind of business owner who takes her employees on staff excursions and throws them cheese-themed parties to thank them for their hard work, so it was an impossible decision. The Buttercream Bakeshop co-owner could have closed up shop and focused on crunching numbers to see how she could reopen once coronavirus runs its course. Instead, she launched a new initiative called #ButtercreamCares.
The public can go to the Buttercream Bakeshop website and make donations ranging from $10 to $500, which the bakery will put towards boxes of baked goods they’re delivering to hospitals and first responders. MacIsaac, her business partner Alexandra Mudry-Till, and two kitchen workers are doing the baking. The orders will start going out on Friday.
The community already came through. “We received 60 donations as of last night ranging from $10 to $110,” MacIsaac says. “We have so much product here that we can’t use or sell. This is a great way to have people support us.”
Buttercream Bakeshop is but one local hospitality industry business paying it forward under dire circumstances. On Monday, Mayor Muriel Bowser closed restaurants and bars to on-premise consumption, joining a growing number of states across the country. The move is necessary to coax people into following the Centers for Disease Control increasingly strict recommendations for effective social distancing, but puts a chokehold on potential revenue. Some restaurateurs report making as little as 10 percent what they normally make per day through take-out and delivery sales.
Nevertheless, mensches are making themselves known.
Three fast-casual restaurants are doing what they can. Like Buttercream Bakeshop, &pizza is focused on hospital workers. “This past weekend we starting giving away free pizzas to all hospitality workers,” founder and CEO Michael Lastoria explained in a video on social media. “We’ve given away thousands of pies. Doctors, nurses, administrators, cleaning staff—anyone working in the hospital, free pizzas on us.” He says to text 200-03 with the hashtag #HERO to arrange for free contact-less delivery. “Their bravery, determination, and care keeps us going. Help spread the word and help those who are healing us.”
RASA, a fast-casual Indian restaurant in Navy Yard run by millennials Sahil Rahman and Rahul Vinod sprung into action earlier this week when they announced that they’re offering free take-out meals for school children under 18 years old and hospital workers with valid identification.
Hummus shop Little Sesame is focused on the District’s most food insecure residents, many of whom live east of the river in Wards 7 and 8 where there are only three grocery stores. Nonprofit Dreaming Out Loud is helping Little Sesame identify places to set up shop. For the last couple of days they’ve been handing out free meals at Kelly Miller Middle School in Ward 7.
“By tomorrow we’ll be at three schools,” says Little Sesame partner Nick Wiseman. He’s also looking into feeding a senior living facility that has 180 restaurants in need of food. “By the end of the week we’ll be fully ramped up to making 500 meals a day and we’re committed to going up to 1,000 meals per day as soon as we identify the need.”
The Little Sesame management team is preparing simple dishes that most people would enjoy like beef stew, chicken and rice, and sandwiches. They’re depending on the public to purchase gift cards to fund the meals. One $10 gift card equates to one meal for someone in need.
Two Washingtonians ignited the giving spirit. One won’t surprise you. When Chef José Andrés became one of the first to close his D.C. area restaurants on March 15. They’re not sitting dormant. Zaytinya, America Eats Tavern, Oyamel, and all three locations of Jaleo are now “community kitchens” serving to-go soups, salads, and entrees daily from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
A sample Zaytinya community kitchen menu (subject to change) includes avgolemono soup ($6), fattoush salad ($8), a pilaf bowl with grilled chicken ($12), hummus bowl with veggies ($12), and pita sandwich with spit-roasted lamb shoulder ($10).
A ThinkFoodGroup representative explains that anyone who says they are unable to pay for their meal will be able to receive one for free, and there’s also an option to purchase and donate a meal for someone else.
Also early into the state of emergency, restaurateur Mark Bucher of steak frites spot Medium Rare began delivering free meals to area residents who are 70 and older. The deliveries consist of the restaurant’s normal set meal of salad, steak frites, dessert, and hot bread. Volunteers are bringing the meals to D.C., Montgomery County, parts of Prince George’s County, and northern Virginia. Bucher tells City Paper they’re making anywhere from 200 to 300 free meals per night for older neighbors.
Finally, several restaurants have focused their altruistic efforts on helping their own.
Hook Hall in Park View kicked things off with their Hook Hall Helps initiative. They’ve been sourcing supplies and groceries to package into kits to give out to service industry workers, most of whom didn’t have the same chance to shop before grocery stores cleared out because they were still on the clock. Hook Hall established a fund with the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington to fund its efforts.
Restaurateur Edward Lee, together with his KNEAD Hospitality + Design partners Jason Berry and Michael Reginbogin, is also turning his D.C. restaurant into a nightly relief center for restaurant and bar workers. Starting tonight, SUCCOTASH in Penn Quarter (915 F St NW) will be open from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. for people who no longer have work or a steady income to come by and pick up a free to-go dinner, fresh produce, and other supplies. Lee says his goal is to serve roughly 250 meals per night and the menu will be posted on social media daily.
The fine print: Everyone must show proper ID and have some identifying paperwork to prove recent employment at a restaurant, such as a pay stub; dinners are available on a first-come, first served basis; and the limit is two per person, except in extenuating circumstances.
“This whole situation is heartbreaking and we are doing what we can to help the thousands of workers who have for years been so loyal to us,” Lee tells City Paper. “We cannot forget about them now or we will not have an independent restaurant industry to speak of when this is over. Any monetary donations from D.C. made to the Lee Initiative will go right back to feeding more workers in D.C.”