The Austin restaurant industry has been hit hard by the novel coronavirus pandemic. The restaurants, food trucks, and bars that fed the city have drastically changed since dining rooms were ordered to close last week, and many have had to lay off staff or close completely for now. But even in times of crisis, Austin restaurants are rallying to keep the city fed.
“It’s in our DNA,” said Tso Chinese Delivery co-founder Min Choe. “We give back when we can.” The food delivery startup is a certified B Corporation, which means community service is literally written into its bylaws.
Originally intended for families in need, the TsoGiving Campaign, whereby Tso Chinese Delivery offered free credits to be used through its ordering platform, has now expanded its reach to include anyone who has been displaced or laid off because of the pandemic.
So far, Tso has given away approximately $5,500 worth of food, aided by donations raised through Venmo, its website, and its GoFundMe campaign. Earlier this week, the company even delivered free meals to service industry workers who lost their jobs.
Family-run Italian truck Patrizi’s decided to postpone the opening of its next restaurant, Vic & Al’s in Cherrywood, which was originally scheduled for late March. Since the Manor Road space isn’t being used, co-owners Matt and Nic Patrizi repurposed it into a community kitchen instead. They’re dishing out free hot meals to anyone in need — to-go only, of course.
Operations manager Ashlynn Patrizi stressed that the team is taking every precaution to ensure the safety of their staff and customers, so they are asking people to sign up for 15-minute time slots online. Though March is already booked up, there are available dates in April as of now.
Similarly, independently owned South Austin restaurant Crema Café is offering free bagged lunches to those in need. What originally began as an initiative to feed children over spring break has grown, and now anyone can enjoy a nutritious meal. Each bag comes with a sandwich, fruit, chips, juice, and a pastry. So far, over 300 lunches have been given out. The bakery is also open for curbside pickup family-size meals, and it is also accepting donations through its Venmo.
Then there’s Hundred for Hospitality, a fundraiser launched by a group of food media members and public relations agencies. Seven participating restaurants — including P. Terry’s, Peached Tortilla, and Burro Cheese Kitchen — have pledged to serve 1,400 meals to hospitality workers in need. Donations are being collected online, and all proceeds will go towards serving 100 meals a day over the next two weeks.
Restaurant group Parkside Projects announced a new program to feed service industry workers this month. Each of its restaurants — Parkside, The Backspace, Olive & June, Vamanos, and Jugo — are offering to-go family meals to the public, with half-off discounts for service industry members.
“We are super proud of how we have given our team healthcare and benefits for so long,” said owner/chef Shawn Cirkiel. “This was a natural extension of that.”
“Selling to-go to the general public isn’t about generating sales, it’s just to feed people,” further explained Cirkiel. “Whatever sales are generated will just help our staff and benefit programs.”
During this time, while Austin bakery and beer garden Easy Tiger closed up its several dining rooms, it has increased its bread production to service its still-open drive-thru at the Linc, as well as scaled up the amount of loaves it distributes through area supermarkets and grocery stores such as H-E-B, Whole Foods, Fresh Plus, and Royal Blue Grocery.
All excess bead is being donated to Keep Austin Fed, which distributes food to vulnerable communities throughout the city. The bakery company also just launched a community bread action to further give away 10,000 loaves within the next month through a donation initiative on its menu, to benefit the Central Texas Food Bank, Drive a Senior, and Mobile Loaves & Fishes.
The Austin-area burger chain Mighty Fine Burger gave away 3,000 meals to first responders and health care workers last weekend. The company have more initiatives planned along those similar lines. Likewise, local bakery Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop launched a cupcake delivery service where people can send sweets to health care workers, first responders, and charitable organizations.
Other Austin restaurants that are struggling have made it a priority to support their own teams. Despite offering curbside and delivery, Hyde Park & Grill had to lay off 60 employees. But the institution is doing its best to keep everyone fed, by offering daily family meals for those now-unemployed staffers and their families.
Favorite taco spot Veracruz All Natural shuttered all restaurants and trucks last week after attempting to offer to-go service. Now, the team is focusing on providing for its staff during their furloughs, relying largely on co-owner Maritza Vazquez’s produce company Restaurant Box. “Now, instead of stocking the restaurants and food trucks,” Veracruz team member Ryan Myers explained to Eater, “we will be stocking the kitchens of our employees and making sure they have meals until this current health situation abates.”