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These Bay Area Restaurants Stepped Up to Support the Community in 2020

In an incredibly challenging year, these restaurants went above and beyond to care for those who needed help

Reem Assil takes a tray of knafeh out of the oven
Reem Assil took special care to support her staff during the pandemic, says fellow chef Preeti Mistry
Patricia Chang

We asked a group of local writers, restaurant industry voices, and other assorted, and uniformly brilliant, friends of Eater SF to weigh in on this past year in food (and what a year it was). We’ll share their answers to this, the annual “Year in Eater” survey, over the course of several articles over the next two weeks. Today, they’re sharing their thoughts on restaurants that stepped up to aid the local community during this difficult year.

I want to give a big shout-out to Tee Tran, the owner at Monster Pho in North Oakland and Emeryville. He’s always been genuinely nice and welcoming at his restaurants (he’s the kind of guy who remembers repeat customers), but during the pandemic, Tran stepped up for the community in a major way. From the very beginning of lockdown, Tran has taken his staff and customer’s health and safety very seriously; he transitioned Monster Pho to takeout-only even before it was mandated. In the early days, he was driving meals, giving away free coffee and collecting PPE (when supplies were dangerously low) for Kaiser ER staff. Tran delivered produce to local seniors so they wouldn’t have to leave their homes, and put out fresh vegetables in front of his restaurants that were free for the taking by any passerby. And like so many other generous chefs and restaurant owners, he teamed up with World Central Kitchen to provide thousands of meals for people in need, all while trying to keep his business afloat. He still continues to be generous, giving and kind-hearted — on the day before Thanksgiving, Monster Pho gave away bowls of pho for five hours to anyone who needed a hot meal. — Berkeleyside Nosh editor Sarah Han

I think the way that so many local restaurant people — owners, chefs, staff, cooks, servers, and on — stepped up for the community was one of the biggest storylines of the year. You’ll see some of the more prominent examples around the interwebs, but there are so many more that didn’t get the headlines. For example, in May, after the massive Pier 47 fire that took out multiple seafood suppliers,, there was the cook who, even though his restaurant was closed, bought up and butchered whole salmon, then found friends across the city to buy it, and then delivered it, so the fishermen wouldn’t lose out on that revenue. It’s not saving the world, but it’s a tiny example how the community always goes above and beyond to help. — Resy editorial director (and Eater SF’s founding editor) Paolo Lucchesi

Reem’s always [supports the community] but I think this year and its particular challenges were really taking it to the extreme. I think [owner Reem Assil has] done a great job of caring for her staff and community throughout these challenging times. — Chef, activist, and author Preeti Mistry

Andytown Roastery was one of the first to raise money to provide meals to first responders, all the way back in March. They raised $40,000 and ran that program for a few months. With the money they raised, they were able to keep their staff employed while simultaneously feeding first responders in those scary first few months. That level of quick thinking is impressive and even started a movement that many other food businesses like ours emulated. — San Francisco restauranteur Rica Sunga-Kwan, the owner of Portola District ice cream shop Churn Urban Creamery

They aren’t technically a restaurant (though they will be soon), but I have continued to be impressed by the way that La Santa Torta, the birria-focused taco truck, has been such a force for good during the pandemic. Very early on in the pandemic, they started giving away free meals to folks in need in their immediate community, and they never really stopped — including several special trips they made to feed undocumented farm workers in the aftermath of this year’s devastating wildfire season. — Eater SF food editor Luke Tsai

I’ve been really impressed with Zuni’s commitment to speaking truth to power, and with Che Fico’s ceaseless efforts to both feed and support the community in San Francisco and to attempt to engage with lawmakers in the hopes of getting desperately needed federal aid passed. And this isn’t a restaurant but I’m super inspired by the work that the SF New Deal has done in filling the void left by a marked lack of sufficient government support for our restaurant community. — San Francisco food writer Lauren Sloss

In the first, shocking days of the shutdown, many restauranteurs were forced to make a fast decision: They could shut down completely and lay off all their staff, reducing their overhead to rent and utilities. Or they could remain open, working their asses off to maybe, if they’re lucky, lose a little less money. Why on earth would anyone choose the latter choice, if you’re still going to lose thousands a month? Why not just close it all down, let everyone collect unemployment, and take a vacation? Well, that only works if everyone who works at your restaurant is either from the U.S., or has leapt through all the ridiculous and labyrinthine hoops this country calls an immigration system. If anyone who works at your restaurant hasn’t completed all the steps in that oft-degrading green card dance, there’s no unemployment, so there’s no income for those folks, and they’re left completely in the cold. So my answer is every restaurant that stayed open — even to their financial detriment — to ensure that any employees who don’t have the support they deserve from the system were still able to pay their bills. — Eater SF editor Eve Batey

David Nayfeld at Che Fico is the obvious one — he got on the phone with investors on, like, Day 2 of the first lockdown and started doing family meals for people in need, offering the meals for full price to those who could afford them and letting people buy meals for others. — SFist editor Jay Barmann

Press in St. Helena. They fed our community in need with the Feed Our Families initiative, averaging 800 meals a week, opened a Wine Thru to help small local wineries sell their new releases, and offered fantastic takeout along the way, including Happy Meal-inspired to-go boxes! — Napa food writer Jess Lander

Mission Bowling Club, not exactly a restaurant, but Molly, the owner, is offering the space and kitchen for local pop-ups and small business owners to use. — Author, activist, chef, and Sankofa pop-up founder Selasie Dotse

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