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Adrienne Lo and Abraham Conlon of Fat Rice. Photo: Fat Rice website.

As more states and cities order shutdowns of gathering places like restaurants and bars to prevent the spread of coronavirus, restaurateurs are faced with a dilemma: What to do with all the perishables they have on hand? In New York City, Jason Wang decided last Friday to shut down all locations of his Xi'an Famous Foods chain of noodle restaurants, even before any order to close, because he just didn't want to risk any customers or staff spreading the virus. He was able to put a lot of meat into the deep freeze, but that left a lot of stuff that would go bad soon:

He had 25,000 lamb dumplings and 20,000 spinach dumplings that wouldn't freeze well. There were 35 boxes of cabbage weighing in at 100 pounds each. There was the spinach, the enoki mushrooms, and the cucumbers, not to mention 3,000 buns and 450 prepared salads.

Wand was able to arrange a pickup from the nonprofit City Harvest, which redistributes unneeded restaurant ingredients (no, not your half-eaten hot wings, don't be gross) to food pantries and soup kitchens across the NYC area. The organization has been coordinating similar efforts across the city, so it was slammed: It could send a truck, but had no volunteers to load it, so Wang and the driver (and, we assume, any available helpers from Wang's business) would need to load it up with produce. Which sure beats letting it all spoil.


All over the place, restaurants that are closing or converting to takeout only are getting creative this week, and since there are a lot of people being hit by this crisis, the restaurants are finding plenty of folks needing their help.

B&H Dairy, a long-running kosher restaurant in New York's East Village, announced on Instagram that it would hand out free food to anyone who wanted it on Monday and Tuesday. Philanthropist and restaurateur Jose Andres announced he would temporarily close his restaurants in Washington, D.C. and New York City and convert some to community kitchens, offering affordable takeout. A spokesperson confirmed that leftover restaurant ingredients would be used once the community kitchens were up and running.

Another New York nonprofit that runs a high school that prepares kids for careers in the hospitality industry put out a call for donations to help needy students, and restaurants all over the city offered to share excess inventory.

And in Chicago, the owners of Fat Rice, a restaurant that specializes in Portuguese-Asian food from Macau (and which Chicagoan Wonketter Robyn Pennacchia says is "the one place in Chicago that has Portuguese bread"), decided that rather than try to stay open doing takeout only, it would be safer to close altogether for a while. Fat Rice will be using its remaining food inventory to give right back to Chicago restaurant workers (and the rest of the community) who find themselves without work, by opening a community relief kitchen; from yesterday through Thursday, Fat Rice will be prepping take-home meal kits that people can order on a "pay what you can" basis, starting at just 50 cents. On their announcement / order page, Fat Rice owners Adrienne Lo and Abraham Conlon said it was "only right to find a way to share this with our community, and do what we love to, cook delicious and exciting food."

We plan on providing roughly 200 kits a day, until we run out of food.

At the core of this mission, we hope to encourage communities to stay at home and self-quarantine for as long as possible by providing these take home kits to supplement food supplies by approximately 3 days. The most responsible thing we can all do right now in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19, is to continue building a foundation for healthy social distancing and dining at home.

Each meal kit will include enough food for about three meals for two people, "Including sweets!" Yeah, we're tearing up a little, too.

As we said yesterday, these private efforts are inspiring, and now it's damn well time they be backed up by help from the federal government, through cash to families and immediate help to small businesses. Jason Wang, the New York noodle king guy, noted that the city's program to provide grants or low-interest emergency loans would max out at $75,000, which would help, but is also a "drop in the bucket" for all his employees, who he plans to pay accrued vacation time.

Oh yes, here's something to worry you: New York's unemployment insurance website crashed due to high traffic Monday.

Maybe this time around, we could help people, not just the giant corporations. Needless to say, Elizabeth Warren has some excellent thoughts about how that should work.

If you want to help restaurant people out, and can afford to, Yahoo has a list of suggestions, which include buying your favorite eatery's merch, although some, like Fat Rice, want you to know deliveries will be temporarily delayed. But wow, look at this poster.


I'm looking forward to it arriving in a couple weeks, when they can get to it.

[The Counter / City Harvest / Fat Rice community relief kitchen / Fat Rice / Elizabeth Warren on Twitter / Yahoo News / Photo: Fat Rice store]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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