Running a restaurant during a pandemic is no small feat, but these local eateries and delivery services are doing their best to grow and support one another in the midst of…well, you know.
I hate to do this to you, dear reader, but remember the before times? When wandering the streets on your lunch break in search of the just-right food truck or restaurant to satisfy your cravings was routine? Or taking the family out to dinner at your favorite local spot? Dinner dates at high-end, gourmet eateries featuring brilliant chefs and mixologists? Me too.
Now, nights in with sweatpants and delivery has become our new normal as dining options dwindle and delivery service options multiply.
The restaurant industry was hit hard by the pandemic as it has suffered more sales and employment losses than any other industry in the nation since restrictions were put into place in March, according to the National Restaurant Association.
In April, this same food service trade association sent out a survey to 6,500 restaurants across the country and discovered more than 8 million food service employees had been laid off or furloughed since March, and predicted the restaurant industry would lose $240 billion by the end of this year. Although many food service jobs have returned as dining restrictions have eased up, industry employment is still 2.3 million below pre-coronavirus levels.
But in the District, several organizations, delivery services and local restaurants are working to keep the city’s diverse and nationally lauded dining scene alive.
When the pandemic hit, Chris Powers, Adam Fry and Josh Saltzman sprung into action by cofounding DC To-GoGo – a delivery service committed only to local residents and businesses in order to keep money in the District. Their approach is one that is solely dedicated to an “eat local, drink local, support local” mentality, which is 100 percent reflected in their business model.
“By focusing on supporting local businesses, customers are helping to create jobs for their neighbors and community members,” Fry says. “Supporting local as an ideology means giving more attention to those around us and how our actions affect the people nearest to us.”
He continues, saying he’s not looking to build a monopoly on food delivery and maximize the salaries for their stakeholders.
“We’re looking to give restaurants an alternative that has the industry in mind and that has all of our favorite regulars in mind, too. Our long-term goal is to be able to give back to the community around us and those who want to make D.C. even better than it already is.”
Order from DC To-GoGo at www.dctogogo.com.
As another local delivery service, Bring It! stands out because of their unique, sustainability-conscious approach. Owner Kimmie Harlow says having bike couriers deliver goods is both faster and more environmentally friendly than the traditional vehicle delivery system because couriers are able to quickly navigate the streets of D.C. and avoid idling in traffic.
“Especially with climate change being an increasingly pressing concern, it’s important to promote alternative means of transportation that have less of an impact on our environment,” she says. “We don’t want to add to the lines of cars parked with their hazards on in front of restaurants or add to car traffic in an already congested city.”
Bring It! offers on-demand delivery for restaurants and to anyone living in D.C. Call 202-603-2718 or email email@example.com to place an order from 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Power of 10 Initiative
This nonprofit, created by chef Erik Bruner-Yang, works to keep mom-and-pop restaurants afloat, serve free meals to people in need, and create more jobs in the industry by donating $10,000 a week to each restaurant so that it can support 10 full-time employees and serve 1,000 meals.
Since its founding in March, Power of 10 has served nearly 230,000 meals and raised over a million dollars from individuals and corporate sponsors. They began in D.C. by sponsoring Cane, a family-owned restaurant in the H Street Corridor and have expanded their aid to Los Angeles, New York City, Charlotte, North Carolina, Chicago, Dallas, Baltimore, and Richmond and Fairfax City in Virginia.
“Our ability to help so many restaurants, about 40 across the country, and move at a pace that’s faster than local or federal government for relief funds really keeps these small businesses whole,” Bruner-Yang says. “I feel like we’ve been really successful.”
Donate to The Power of 10 at www.powerof10initiative.com.
Immigrant Food’s mission to “celebrate the successes of immigrants and positively impact today’s immigrants who have come to America to remake their lives” began as a spark in the mind of co-founder Peter Schechter after his parents died in 2018. And since its opening early this year, the restaurant has followed this mission by not only sharing the delicious cuisine of various cultures around the world, but also by advocating for the immigrants who bring the spice and zest to the melting pot that is D.C.
Téa Ivanovic, director of communications and outreach for Immigrant Food, says while Immigrant Food has been able to withstand the challenges brought by the pandemic, it required resilience to brave through it all.
“Opening a new restaurant, with an ambitious social justice cause, and then being hit by a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic three months later is what we’d call an intensive course in crisis management!” she says. “It’s difficult to grow a new brand in the midst of a pandemic, but we [had to choose]: Try to adapt or close our doors. We chose the former.”
To adapt, Immigrant Food expanded their in-dining options to include a new patio, which Ivanovic noted has been “winterized” with heaters and cozy blankets (sanitized after each use). The restaurant is also continuing their mission by partnering with Tables Without Borders to financially support immigrant chefs during a time of massive layoffs in the restaurant industry.
Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. and 4-8 p.m. Dine in or order pickup or delivery from www.immigrantfood.com. 1701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; 202-681-3848.
Tables Without Borders
With a mission to give refugees and asylum-seekers a fresh start, Tables Without Borders offers displaced chefs paid culinary internships at local restaurants to “showcase their talents and develop their skills,” according to co-founder Sara Abdel-Rahim.
Unfortunately, due to the many restrictions placed on restaurants, Abdel-Rahim says the organization had to cancel several of its internships and put the dinner events that mark the end of each internship on hold.
“Since the restaurant industry was hit so severely by the pandemic, we’ve been focused on meal donations and our partnership with Immigrant Food rather than the traditional internship. However, as restaurants begin to adjust to our ‘new normal’ we are relaunching the internship program with new precautions.”
Abdel-Rahim stresses that “the resettlement process has only become more strenuous for refugees and asylum-seekers,” so TWB’s mission is especially important to continue in these dire times.
“During this time, we want the public to know that it is more important than ever to support their new neighbors and help them rebuild their lives,” she adds. “We think we provide an easy – and delicious – way for people to do that.”
Support Tables Without Borders at www.tableswithoutborders.org.
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