In 2016, Sabrina Medora went out on a limb and quit her job to start writing about food, and the gamble paid off. While her colorful writing style and love of all things food pushed her name to the top of foodies’ must-read lists in D.C. and beyond, Medora’s devotion to chronicling life as a restaurant worker truly set her apart. Her website Un-Plated shines a light on “real” stories from the restaurant industry, giving readers a peak into what goes into their meals beyond the ingredients and this angle is more important than ever.
As the restaurant industry grapples with the fallout of Covid-19, Medora is documenting how the people who make it run are feeling. Beyond her own website, Medora has been writing multiple articles for the Washington City Paper and Eater DC, and is hoping to write for national publications on the topic as well. Taking a break from her own work, Medora spoke to District Fray about her perspective on the current situation.
District Fray: What stories are you currently telling?
Sabrina Medora: My personal platform, Un-Plated, has always been about giving restaurant workers a voice. It’s been less about what to order at restaurants and what to eat and what to do, and more about what it’s like to work in restaurants. What’s it like on the line, good or bad? That has become a very relevant topic because everyone’s lives have been upended in this industry that we now realize is so intertwined with the rest of society. I have been doing my best to tell these same stories on as many platforms as possible to spread awareness and do what I always do: give a voice to people who work in the industry.
What stories have you heard that have shown just how much this is affecting everyone?
It has been very difficult to conduct these interviews. I don’t think people realize that every reporter who has been working on Covid-related content has been acting as part therapist, part friend [and] part very conscientious reporter. I’m pretty sure almost 90 percent of the phone calls I’ve personally held have come through broken spirits [who are] sharing their deepest, darkest fears with me. To keep hearing stuff like that is overwhelming, but it also renews the fire to keep sharing these stories and make sure they get heard by people willing to help.
What have you been doing to take care of yourself during this time?
I have been trying to get into the kitchen as much as possible, and for the first time in my life, cook recipes that belong to my heritage and my family. I’ve never done that before because frankly, I’ve never had the time to honor it like this. I think writing is helping me stay sane. If I wasn’t actively doing something to contribute, I think I would be a lot more lost. But working with these incredible restaurateurs and being able to share not just my thoughts, but the thoughts of so many people who matter and are suffering right now has been the most stabilizing thing I can do for myself.
How do you think your work will evolve from this?
I have always been transparent with my food writing, and it’s always been something I’ve done on my own time. The other side of my career is that I provide digital marketing to restaurants, and right now my clients are all suffering to varying degrees. I hope I will continue to work with them in some capacity. We’re not as concerned about money at this point, we’re more concerned about making sure that people we have invested so much work and time into feel supported and that we’re doing whatever we can to help.
I don’t think my writing will be affected as much, because I have always written about what it’s actually like to work in restaurants. It’s really important, now more than ever, that the general public sees restaurants as more than just a business. Food is such an integral part of our society; it’s about our culture, heritage [and] coming together. Stop thinking about the workers in restaurants as just another statistic, because they all have names, families, hopes, dreams and lives.
How have people in and out of the restaurant industry reacted to the stories that you are sharing?
I’ve gotten a lot of feedback. There are a lot of people who have left personal messages on Facebook or through Instagram DM’s who have told me they had no idea the extent of what’s going on until they read my work. That means the world to me, because it means I am doing my job. I’ve had a lot of chefs tell me they’re grateful to be sharing their stories with me, and I’m just glad that anyone is willing to talk with me [on this subject] because it is a very difficult thing to bare yourself for others and make yourself vulnerable.
Read some of Medora’s work at un-plated.com, and follow her on social media @sabrinamedora to stay up to date with Un-Plated.
Disclosure: Sabrina Medora regularly contributes to District Fray Magazine.