23 restaurants giving their communities back with free meals

Danielle Nierenberg
As I’ve been hunkering down at home with my family, practicing social distancing during COVID-19, we’ve done more cooking—but we’ve also tried to support local restaurants. Some restaurants in our community are offering takeout and delivery, but unfortunately, restaurants near us and around the U.S. have been forced to close during the COVID-19 outbreak. Folks in the service industry are being laid off and facing food insecurity. Schools that provide meals throughout the day are closed, leaving kids without a steady source of nutrition. And many farmers markets aren’t able to stay open.
But at the same time, something big is happening. Many restaurants and organizations are figuring out how to provide food for their customers, staff, and others during this uncertain time—and they’re bringing hope to their communities.
“We’re all suffering,” farmer Karen Washington of Rise and Root Farm told me live last week. “But at the end of the day, folks, what makes us strong is our belief in one another, that we will come together to help one another get back on our feet. … This is our time, this is our moment to not go back to politics and Wall Street, but to move forward. It’s more about people than profits. This is our time to move forward and change the system.”
We’re having conversations with people like Karen every day. I want to remind you I’m speaking with experts from across the food system every day at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. EST. Watch our conversations LIVE on our YouTube channel, Facebook Live, Twitter, and LinkedIn. And we’ll post them on FoodTank.com and our podcast, Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg.
During this tough time, the creativity of chefs, restaurants, and community food organizations is more inspiring than ever. Acclaimed chefs, including Tom Colicchio and José Andrés, have created the Independent Restaurant Coalition to push Congress to protect restaurants hit hard by COVID-19. The advocacy group One Fair Wage is offering cash assistance to tipped service workers who aren’t earning the pay they should be. And the James Beard Foundation’s Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund has given away over US$500,000 in grants to independent restaurants. Now, restaurants around the country are giving back to their neighbourhoods and cities by offering not just food but also vital groceries, household products, and support for fellow hospitality workers.

A restaurant offering free meals during Covod-19 – Food Tank

This week, Food Tank is highlighting 23 restaurants that are supporting their communities with food donations, grocery services, and more: Anoush’ella, Boston; Arcana, Boulder, CO; Blue Hill, New York; Cafe Roze Bodega, Nashville, TN; Coquette, New Orleans; Eleven Madison Park, New York City; The Essex Market, Hartford, CN.; FieldTrip, New York City; Flights, Los Gatos, CA; Fowl and Fodder, Toledo, OH; Frontline Food Trucks, New York City; Gandy Dancer, Ann Arbor, MI; Great Performances, New York City; The Herbfarm, Woodinville, WA.; Jaleo, Zaytinya, & Mercado Little Spain, Washington, D.C., & New York; Marcus B&P Newark, Newark, NJ; Minnesota Central Kitchen, Minneapolis; Pecan Grill and Brewery, Las Cruces, NM; Red Rooster, New York City and Miami; Solomon’s Delicatessen, Sacramento, CA.; Sqirl, Los Angeles; Staplehouse, Atlanta; and Union Loafers, St. Louis, MO.
Contributing Author: Jared Kaufman
Editor’s note: This article, like our list of community organizations you can support from home, will be continually updated throughout the COVID-19 outbreak and will remain in alphabetical order. Please email danielle@foodtank.com or elena@foodtank.com if you would like to add a restaurant to our running list.
COVID-19 is forcing restaurants around the country to stop dine-in service—and while some are providing takeout or delivery meals, many are closing. This is leaving chefs, cooks, wait staff, and others out of work. At the same time, restaurants and farmers are left with excess food they’re unable to sell, which is at risk of being wasted in a moment when food insecurity is on the rise.
But there is hope in the food system as well. Grassroots support initiatives are being formed all over the world, many of which are accepting donations of money, food, and even volunteer time. Some of the country’s most acclaimed restaurateurs, from Tom Colicchio to Andrew Zimmern to José Andrés, have formed the Independent Restaurant Coalition to protect restaurants hit hard by COVID-19. They are calling on Congress to improve federal relief loans and collecting signatures in support online. And the James Beard Foundation, through its Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund, has given away over US$500,000 to help independent restaurants survive. Relief efforts like these are keeping restaurants afloat during COVID-19, and in turn, restaurants are prioritizing their neighbourhoods by transitioning into community kitchens.
Food Tank is highlighting restaurants that are donating free meals, offering groceries, and partnering with local nonprofits to help those affected by COVID-19. And they have been able to keep staff employed, avoid food waste, and find ways to reduce food insecurity during an uncertain economic time.
1. Anoush’ella, Boston
One location of the Boston Armenian-Lebanese restaurant Anoush’ella remains open for takeout and delivery during COVID-19, but their two other locations have closed. With the extra food from those kitchens, the restaurant is preparing and donating 60 free meals a day to people in the hospitality industry who are out of work during the COVID-19 outbreak.
2. Arcana, Boulder, Colorado
Arcana has transitioned into a community kitchen operating on a pay-what-you-can model. Every menu item has a sliding scale price beginning at US$0, and customers are welcome to choose the price they are able to pay on the honour system. Arcana is also waiving delivery fees and the expectation of tipping, but rather is accepting donations to a staff support fund, which will go toward furloughed employees. On the BLDRfly Podcast, Arcana co-owner Elliott Toan said he is interested in continuing this community-oriented model even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
3. Blue Hill, New York
Blue Hill and Stone Barns Center have partnered to launch resourcED, a program to support the independent local food movement during the pandemic crisis and beyond. A key component of the program are the resourcED boxes, The Garde Manger Box: essential supplements for your lunch or dinner — vegetable stews and purees, fresh pasta, condiments, crackers, butter and more and the Vegetable, Meat, Bread and Flower Boxes Add-ons such as wine, cocktails and more are available as well. In addition, you can donate a box of prepared food to community hospitals and their teams. Each box serves 10 hospital workers.
4. Cafe Roze Bodega, Nashville, Tenn.
In addition to serving a daily family dinner menu, an all-day takeaway menu, and sizable to-go cocktails, Nashville’s Cafe Roze has launched Roze Bodega to help the community during COVID-19. Customers can place orders online for a variety of grocery items, from fresh produce and herbs to regional dairy and grains. Pickup is available curbside at Cafe Roze’s location in East Nashville, and Roze Bodega will also deliver your groceries and meals to your home.
5. Coquette, New Orleans
One of the most popular nights at Coquette, a Southern restaurant with an emphasis on local ingredients, is No Menu Tuesdays. Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Coquette is introducing No Menu; Takeout Edition, which is a fully packaged multi-course meal with detailed heating instructions and photos. Meals can be picked up on Fridays or Saturdays, and each week has its own theme. The restaurant encourages you to have fun by dressing in a costume to match the theme—but not post spoilers on social media!
6. Eleven Madison Park, New York City
Eleven Madison Park, the 3-Michelin-starred restaurant in Manhattan, has closed for guests amid COVID-19. But the kitchen is still active — as a commissary space for Rethink Food, a food rescue organization that provides free meals for New Yorkers in need. Following a donation from American Express, restaurant staff remain employed to prepare thousands of free meals a day for people who are food-insecure, homebound and elderly, and on the front lines of delivering medical care.
7. The Essex Market, Hartford. Conn.
Owners and staff of three Hartford, Connecticut, restaurants—The Essex Restaurant, The Coco Club, and Los Charros Cantina—have launched The Essex Market amid the COVID-19 outbreak. The market sells basic groceries, including milk, eggs, butter, flour, and fresh bread. They’re also selling prepared foods from the restaurants’ kitchens, ranging from Mexican soups to pasta and meat sauce to Mediterranean grain bowls. In addition to pickup options from Tuesday to Saturday, The Essex Market offers delivery to any local address.
8. FieldTrip, New York City
FieldTrip, a rice bowl shop in New York City’s Harlem neighbourhood, is feeding health care workers and kids during COVID-19. Donors can purchase bowls to donate for less than the typical menu price, and FieldTrip is covering tax and delivery costs on donated meals. For the month of April, FieldTrip is also partnering with urban farming nonprofit Harlem Grown to offer warm meals to families and children in shelters, who have reduced access to food because schools are closed.
9. Flights, Los Gatos, CA
Flights, a small-plates restaurant with several locations in the San Francisco Bay Area, has turned their Los Gatos, California, location into a no-touch drive-through grocery store. In addition to essentials like milk, eggs, fruits and vegetables, sugar, and ground coffee, Flights is also offering prepared individual and family-size meals and household items like toilet paper and paper towels. The store is set up in the restaurant’s parking lot, and is open from noon to 7 p.m. daily.
10. Fowl and Fodder, Toledo, Ohio
Instead of its typical Southern brunch fare, Fowl and Fodder has converted into the 4-1-DINE Market, an online grocery store. People can shop daily for staple ingredients, meat and produce, household essentials, and meal kits, with pickup and delivery available Wednesdays and Saturdays. “Friends don’t let friends go hungry in the 419,” they say. In keeping with this ethos, Fowl and Fodder has partnered with Mosaic Ministries to create the 4-1-DINE Community Care Fund, which helps those experiencing food insecurity due to COVID-19.
11. Frontline Food Trucks, New York City
An initiative of the New York Food Truck Association, Frontline Food Trucks is dispatching its member food trucks to serve free coffee, snacks, and meals to medical professionals. As hospital cafeterias and local restaurants close, it can be difficult for healthcare workers at hospitals such as NYU Langone, Mount Sinai, and others to eat between shifts. Currently, they are working up to their goal of delivering three meals a day, seven days a week, at 5–10 hospitals throughout the city.
12. Gandy Dancer, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Gandy Dancer, a steak and seafood restaurant in Ann Arbor, has pivoted to selling groceries to the community amid COVID-19. In addition to staples and toilet paper, the restaurant is selling meat, fish, seafood, and more from its pantry. “A lot of people are saying they’re happy to support us, but a lot of people are saying, ‘Thank you for helping us,’” manager Charlene Gulliford told the Associated Press.
13. Great Performances, New York City
Bronx-based catering company Great Performances has pivoted toward food donation during the COVID-19 outbreak. In coordination with the New York City Department for the Aging and the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), Great Performances is providing 40,000 meals to seniors in Manhattan and an additional 10,000 weekly meals for OEM to distribute. In their own neighborhood, Great Performances is also contributing to food delivery in three public housing buildings and donating 100 boxed meals every day to partner organizations in the South Bronx.
14. The Herbfarm, Woodinville, Washington
Located right outside Seattle, The Herbfarm is a much-lauded pioneer of local foodways and regional cooking. During COVID-19, The Herbfarm’s dining room is closed, but restaurant staff and volunteers have continued cooking since March 15 to donate meals to hospital workers in the Puget Sound area. By continuing to prepare these individually boxed, multi-course meals, The Herbfarm is continuing to support its staff and local producers while honoring medical caregivers on the front lines of the epidemic.
15. Jaleo, Washington D.C. (all locations); Zaytinya, Washington, D.C.; Mercado Little Spain, New York City
Most of chef José Andrés’s restaurants, including Mercado Little Spain in New York City and three Jaleo locations in Washington, D.C., have closed to the public and been repurposed as community kitchens. There, Andrés and his teams are preparing “plates of the day” for takeout at affordable prices, or free for those who are unable to pay. These kitchens are a project of Andrés’s nonprofit, World Central Kitchen, which has provided meals in the wake of natural disasters since 2010.
16. Marcus B&P Newark, Newark, New Jersey
Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s restaurant Marcus B&P, in Newark, New Jersey, is supporting restaurants around the city while also donating meals to workers on the front lines. Samuelsson is partnering with chef José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen, audiobook company Audible, and actor Michael B. Jordan to form Newark Working Kitchens (NWK). NWK will employ restaurant staff at independent eateries in Newark to prepare meals for donation. Marcus B&P Newark has donated 2,500 meals so far, and Audible’s donation of US$1 million will help NWK deliver over 100,000 meals to Newark residents during the COVID-19 outbreak.
17. Minnesota Central Kitchen, Minneapolis
Minnesota Central Kitchen is a collaboration between anti-hunger organizations Second Harvest Heartland and Loaves and Fishes, and food service partners including Chowgirls Catering, The Bachelor Farmer, and Restaurant Alma. In addition to donating meals to food-insecure Minnesotans, Minnesota Central Kitchen aims to keep restaurant staff employed and cut down on waste by using excess food from partners across the Twin Cities. With support and additional kitchen space from The Cargill Foundation, Minnesota Central Kitchen will be able to donate over 10,000 meals every day at Loaves and Fishes distribution sites around the state.
18. Pecan Grill and Brewery, Las Cruces, New Mexico
After closing their dining room, Pecan Grill and Brewery decided to sell groceries directly to the public to prevent their backstock from being wasted. The brewpub is selling staples like flour, milk, beans, and rice, as well as fresh produce such as tomatoes and zucchini. Pecan Grill is also offering discounts to medical workers and students.
19. Red Rooster, New York City and Miami
Both of chef Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster restaurants—the original in Harlem and its new sister spot in the Overtown neighborhood of Miami—have partnered with chef José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen to donate free meals. Red Rooster Harlem is distributing free meals to those in need every weekday at noon, and Red Rooster Overtown is doing the same on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons. In Overtown, Red Rooster has donated over 1,000 meals and plans to continue as long as possible.
20. Solomon’s Delicatessen, Sacramento, California
After initially being forced to close and lay off employees due to COVID-19, Sacramento deli Solomon’s Delicatessen has transformed into a community kitchen and rehired many kitchen employees. In partnership with the nonprofit Sacramento Covered and anonymous donors, Solomon’s Delicatessen is preparing upwards of 300 meals a day for elderly, medically vulnerable, food-insecure, and unsheltered people in the community.
21. Sqirl, Los Angeles, California
After chef Nancy Silverton of Chi Spacca, in Los Angeles, was diagnosed with COVID-19, the food relief program she began was continued by local brunch spot Sqirl. The program is called Framily Meal, and it offers food and essential items to out-of-work hospitality employees. Family Meal is supported by bourbon producer Maker’s Mark, actress Busy Philipps, and food companies like Imperfect Produce, Sfoglini Pasta Shop, and Cowgirl Creamery. Sqirl has donated thousands of meals for two and household products like diapers and cleaning wipes.
22. Staplehouse, Atlanta, Georgia
Staplehouse is already known for doing things a little differently—the tasting menu spot is a subsidiary of the nonprofit Giving Kitchen, to which they donate their revenue, and Staplehouse chefs and bartenders incorporate items from the backyard garden into dishes and drinks. Now, Staplehouse has launched The Giving Soup Kitchen at their location near downtown, where staff remain employed to prepare and provide free meals for those in the service industry who have been laid off. “What do people need right now? Food. What do restaurants have that they can’t use now? Food,” chef-owner Ryan Smith told Eater Atlanta.
23. Union Loafers, St. Louis, Missouri
Union Loafers, which was named one of the country’s best bread bakeries by the Food Network, has begun selling groceries for those isolating at home. They are selling several varieties of bread, a sourdough starter, and a wide selection of honeys, jams, and butters. Breads are available for purchase beginning at 9 a.m. until they are sold out, with pickup available each afternoon. Wine and beer are available by the bottle.
(Danielle Nierenberg is President of Food Tank and an expert on sustainable agriculture and food issues. She has written extensively on gender and population, the spread of factory farming in the developing world and innovations in sustainable agriculture.)