On Lowest Greenville, just like the rest of the country, restaurants face empty dining rooms. Turned-over chairs sit atop tables, rooms are dark and signs reading “To-go only” are taped to exterior windows.
But behind one of these quiet establishments, for three hours Monday through Friday, about 300 meals are going out for free.
“We knew that a lot of restaurants have been really great about pivoting to takeout to keep their business alive, but it hasn’t been able to keep a majority of people employed, so what we're trying to do is help the employees who lost their positions in any way we can,” says Will Salisbury, chef and co-founder of Heard That Foundation, a nonprofit that gives support to people in the hospitality industry.
Anyone who's been furloughed or laid off in the industry from recent restaurant closures and down-scaling from the coronavirus pandemic can at least get one free, hot meal a day from the chefs prepping Monday through Friday.
It was more than a week ago that Salisbury started feeling people may be in need soon, and that's when he partnered with Richard Torres, vice president of Chefs Produce Co.
"Everything I've done so far with Heard That Found, Richard is one of the first people to throw his hat in the ring to reach out. He knew of another organization that was planning on doing something similar, so he put me in touch with 8020 Concepts — Gung Ho, HG Sply and Hero — and I got on the phone with them," Salisbury says. "Immediately we were just like, 'We want to do the same thing, we want to help the same people, let's combine our resources so we can help as many people as possible.' "
So since Monday, March 23, people have been lining up — while keeping distant — behind Gung Ho on Lowest Greenville, where meals are served each weekday evening. All they're asked is how many people need food that night.
Then volunteers — following strict guidelines on safety — pack meals and take them to the cars.
“While our meals are for hospitality workers out of work, we are not asking for proof of your work or that you worked in the industry," Salisbury says. "The only thing we want to know is how many people you need to feed; that's part of our ethos of hospitality: that it's not just about us, it's about hospitality for everyone.”
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Salisbury is working with three chefs to execute this effort: Denise Apigo, Evelyn Aloupas and Randall Braud.
“Whatever product we can get delivered, we kind of strategize our menu for the week: It's like going into the walk-in every day and finding what to cook for a family meal. All of us have experience with that,” Aloupas says.
The tasks are all ones they're used to. They're out of this work just like so many throughout the city are.
“We’re doing the only thing we know how to do, is to cook and feed people,” Apigo says. “It's hard to really think beyond that, about the grander scope of everything happening, because it starts to feel overwhelming, but being able to do what little that we can, that kind of keeps us going.”