It’s been a strange, sad, scary, and surreal week in the Bay Area, as restaurants struggle to find a way forward during a legally mandated dining room closure period of at least three weeks, a shutdown that devastates bottom lines and threatens to decimate the industry. While there are many plans to save the game in play, from a pivot to takeout and delivery to calls for financial assistance at the city level, this is a time of frustration and fear. But some chefs and restaurants have still found a way to look forward, and are devoting time and resources to helping the folks on the true frontline of the coronavirus crisis: nurses, doctors, and staffers at local hospitals.
In some cases, it’s a simple gift. For example, Augie’s Montreal Deli, a Berkeley smoked meats purveyor known for its poutine and hefty sandwiches, announced via Instagram that it is “offering first responders, doctors, nurses, and health care workers a free meal.” “We just really appreciate those on the front lines during this time and want to do what we can for them, since they are doing so much for us,” they say, so “just show us your badge and we will hand you a container of soup and a 1/2lb of meat of your choosing.”
Across the Bay, Chris Cosentino, the chef and owner of meat-centric SoMa spot Cockscomb, has temporarily closed his restaurant to help slow the spread of the virus, but he’s not staying home. Instead, KRON 4 reports, his staff and he have “prepared 125 meals for emergency rooms across three hospitals — SF General, UCSF on Parnassus, and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital,” with chefs from other restaurants expected to join in as the shutdown continues.
“We all need to help. We need to do what we can,” Cosentino says of the effort. “Our restaurant is officially closed. We have no food left. All the managers came in yesterday from the kitchen and front of the house as well as my wife to produce and we did what we had to do.”
Heading to the Sunset, Andytown Coffee Roasters is working on another piece of the puzzle. The company has two cafes and a roastery in the Outer Sunset, as well as a cafe at 181 Fremont Street. Following the March 16 order to shelter in place, the business temporarily closed its downtown and 3629 Taraval Street cafes, it announced via Instagram. According to Ali Hooke, the company’s executive chef, they were left with “so much product that we consolidated from the closed locations... way more than we can safely use up with takeout, since we need to have social distancing.”
Hooke tells Eater SF that at a managers’ meeting after the closures were announced, someone proposed that the company allow customers to virtually purchase coffee and pastries for health care workers at local hospitals. The effort took off at a velocity that no one expected, Hooke says.
“The last time I checked, people had spent $20,000,” Hooke says, a figure the company announced via Instagram late Wednesday night. That’s when Andytown workers made their first delivery to San Francisco General Hospital, dropping off coffee and treats outside that SF General workers safely brought in to distribute.
That was just the first day of the effort, and while it’s likely that as this sprint becomes a marathon, the number will drop, Hooke says that just that single day was a game-changer. “That will help us get through the couple next weeks,” she says, and if the donations continue, the runway becomes longer.
“If we can just make it through this time,” Hooke says, “we have a shot of getting it all back.” It’s a lofty goal, for sure — the coffee game is tough under any circumstances, and even when places are closed, the rent still has to be paid. Hooke admits that the restaurant industry, as a whole, “is never going to be like it used to be. It’s awful and it’s scary.”
But there are bright spots, like the outpouring of help Andytown saw on Tuesday, and what chefs like Cosentino and businesses like Augie’s are doing. While things are bad, Hooke says, “I’m feeling so much love and seeing so much good right now. That’s what’s keeping all of us going.”
Do you have a good news story from the Bay Area restaurant industry? If so, we’d like to hear it.