As the Texas winter storm continues and people are stuck without power, heat, and food, Austin restaurants have taken it upon themselves to feed their neighborhoods.
Cajun Cherrywood restaurant Vic & Al’s has been regularly making and giving away gumbo this week. The effort is in line with the ethos of co-owners and cousins Nicholas and Matt Patrizi, who used the space as a service worker community kitchen during the early days of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“I don’t have any power, so I’m just living in the restaurant, eating all my pickled eggs,” says Nicholas Patrizi. “So I figured I might as well try to make some people happy and fed while I’m here.” The restaurant already had food products on hand, meant for Mardi Gras specials, but Vic & Al’s also wanted to offer a space for people. “It feels like people need some outlets for food, purpose, conversations, happiness,” he tells Eater.
Patrizi debuted the gumbo on Tuesday, February 16, expecting at most 30 people to come by. Instead, there were about 60 people during the first hour. He has kept it going, expanding the menu with 250 meals of butter beans, and red beans and rice the next day, and switched to 350 meals of jambalaya on Thursday. Plans for Friday are tentative as the restaurant is currently without water.
Over in East Austin, premier taco spots Discada, Nixta Taqueria, and Cuantos Tacos teamed up to give away free breakfast tacos and pozole this week. Discada co-owner Anthony Pratto was prepared to open the truck this week and had already prepped the namesake dish (beef, pork, and vegetables cooked in layers using a plow disc) over the weekend. “Why would we waste this food when a ton of people in our community either can’t get to the store, don’t have power running water, can’t afford to pay for rides or can’t get a ride to food in general?” he says. “Why don’t we do the best we can cooking everything that we have?”
There was already a large amount of food, including about two regular business days’ worth of meat. Pratto mixed in 15 eggs that he had on hand; Nixta co-owner and chef Edgar Rico, who shares a commissary kitchen with Pratto, had cooked duck and dried chiles to spare. In addition to the tacos, making pozole made sense, says Pratto: “That’s something really easy that we can make big stock pots and portion it out in cups.”
The Nixta team, which had its power go out that night, shared Pratto’s attitude. “We figured, why let our food go to waste when we can feed some people who need it?” Rico and co-owner Sara Mardanbigi told Eater via Instagram message.
Furthering their efforts were friends helping out in the kitchen, including Tony Curet of pizza truck Doughboys, and food donations including 30 dozen eggs from Southwest Austin brewery Meanwhile. There have also been financial contributions from bigger brands, including Deep Eddy Vodka, Bumble, Made In, and Blue Norther. Pratto shared that they used some of the brand money to buy and give away hoodies.
It’s all part of the restaurants’ efforts to help and feed their communities, through food and anything else they can do.
“We’re gonna continue using that money to just pump back out in the community,” says Pratto, adding that they plan on purchasing gift cards for gas stations and HEB to give away as well.
Most food prepared today by Discada, Nixta, and Cuantos will be given away to places in need, such as hospitals, retirement homes, and warming centers. Fifty tacos will be distributed to the public from Nixta, and this free food service will continue on Friday and Saturday. The restaurants are accepting donations through co-owner Sara Mardanbigi’s Venmo (@sara-mardanbigi) or through the on-site ATX Free Fridge program’s Venmo (@atxfreefridge).
Vic & Al’s, Nixta, Discada, and Cuantos are just some of the restaurants making free hot meals for people in need. Many restaurants, including Southside Flying Pizza, Hestia, and OMG Squee, have been preparing and distributing meals to hospitals, warming centers, and shelters with the help of brands, corporations, and local hospitality groups like Deep Eddy Vodka, Kendra Scott, and A Taste of Koko/365 Things Austin/MYLK Collective.
There are also restaurants that have been giving away food on their own while asking for donations to local groups in exchange. Via 313 sold pies from its North Campus location while asking for donations to Austin Mutual Aid. Seoulju is giving away free boxes of chicken and rice while asking for donations to Austin Pets Alive.
Working behind the scenes on many of these efforts is Good Works Austin, under the guidance of L’Oca d’Oro co-owner Adam Orman. The group, which consists of several restaurants including Colleen’s Kitchen and Baby Greens, have been providing meals to agencies and organizations such as Austin Public Health, EL Buen Samaritano, and others through the help of donations. The group has been coordinating and organization meals and deliveries based on daily needs.
The Austin restaurant community rallies when there is a great need for help. “Anything that we get, we’re gonna pump back out and be the vessel,” Pratto says, “because a lot of people are in need right now, especially where we are on the east side.” It’s about doing as much as possible for the community.
Update, Friday, February 19, 12:23 p.m.: This article, originally published on Thursday, February 18, has been updated to clarify the relation of and one of the name of the co-owners of Vic & Al’s