Austin-based wholesale seafood company Minamoto Foods has turned to feeding local service industry workers impacted by the novel coronavirus pandemic for free as long there is a need. The meals can be picked up every Tuesday and Thursday at downtown Japanese restaurant TenTen.
“Our entire supply chain is in disarray,” because of the pandemic, explained Adam Brick, an Austin chef who is helping Minamoto with this effort. By taking advantage of its seafood access, the company is able to make the best of the situation. “We have focused our free time on just feeding people with ingredients we already have,” he explained. “Why sit on a million dollars worth of inventory when people do not have a job?”
Minamoto launched The Family Meal Initiative in early April. Volunteer chefs, led by John Gocong of Cedar Park Japanese restaurant Rock and Rolls Sushi Lounge, cook meals using products from the company. Those meals are then distributed by Nova Hospitality (the group that oversees TenTen) for free to hospitality workers.
It’s “a homage to the communal meals that we have cooked for each other every day in all of our restaurants,” further explained Minamoto’s press release, “a small sense of normalcy in an unprecedented time full of unknowns.”
The free meals are provided on Tuesdays and Thursday from downtown Japanese restaurant TenTed via contactless pickups. The weekly rotating menu features seafood meats, vegetables, and grains. Previous dishes include miso tare Ora King salmon, Thai lettuce wraps, and salmon tacos
“We work with entire restaurants and individuals,” said Brick. “We do our best to not say no to anything.” Minamoto is reaching out to restaurants and individual workers directly to tell them about the program. The company’s clients can reach out to their sales rep for meal access. Those who aren’t clients will email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up scheduled pickups.
To keep the initiative going, Minamoto launched a GoFundMe campaign. Funds raised will go towards paying cooks and other “minor logistical costs.” It started in late March and has raised over $6,000 so far.
As another way of raising money while also making use of its seafood access, Minamoto is also selling packaged ready-to-cook seafood meals at select restaurant markets. Half of these retail proceeds will go towards paying those volunteer chefs cooking in the program.
“We are carefully walking the tightrope of supporting our guys, while trying to keep our business afloat,” said Brick. These locations include Salt & Time, Spread & Co., and Contigo. Potential options range from Atlantic salmon from Tasmania-based Huon Aquaculture, scallops from New Jersey’s Captain Pete Dolan of the FV Ms Manya, and white shrimp from Louisiana-based Jensen Tuna. Japanese restaurant Kome is also using Minamoto products to fashion a two-portion meal kit making use of American red snapper.
Through both the meal services and packaged seafood, Minamoto is able to keep its staffers employed. The company’s sales declined by approximately 90 percent in March, when restaurant dining rooms were forced to close to mitigate the spread of the virus. As more restaurants started to reopen for takeout services and the such, Brick noted that dropped percentage is now around 65 to 70.
Minamoto is still selling its seafood to restaurants at the same time. The company typically focuses on selling sustainable seafood to restaurants in Austin, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio, since 2008. Brick previously worked at Austin restaurants including Apis and Vino Vino. Gocong previously held positions at Uchi, Uchiko, and She’s Not Here.