DC Area Restaurants and COVID-19: How Can We Help?

Note: The resources and links here are being updated regularly.

I was all set to publish a cutesy blog post professing my love for a particular dish at a DC restaurant that opened last fall.* Before I finalized my work, the situation with COVID-19 began to unfold, and the crushing impact on restaurants came into focus with every passing moment. This isn’t the blog post I set out to write. It’s the one I’m obligated to write now.

We have no idea how long it will be before we can return to dining in a restaurant. In DC the dine-in ban has been extended through April 25. Obviously the full impact is currently unknown, but just the thought of where we could land is surreal and unimaginable. The most frequently used word of the last two weeks is probably heartbreaking.

Contrast this with where we were last month, when a slew of exciting restaurants welcomed diners, and many more were just on the verge of opening. I have been writing about DC restaurants for nearly ten years. Restaurants have brought me joy, community, and a broader world view. I’ve forged friendships with countless people whose livelihood is tied in one way or other to restaurants. My husband works in the restaurant equipment business, so we are personally affected in ways that remain to be seen.

I write this to help spread the word about what the public can do to help. While some industries will receive government support to get them out of this economic mess, it’s not at all clear how restaurants – particularly independent restaurants- will make it through to the other side.

I worked myself into a frenzy over the weekend, musing over social media postings and websites to determine where to offer support. There are myriad options. This post offers links to a variety of websites. It’s time for all of us to give back to the people who have been feeding us over the years. Whether it’s by ordering takeout, donating funds, purchasing merchandise, or signing petitions, everything we do now can make a difference.

Legislation

Small independent businesses are the backbone of our economy and the lifeblood of our nation — but we are buckling under the pressure of the COVID-19 health crisis. It turns out that #sizematters under the crushing weight of this pandemic’s economic fallout, and small businesses need help now. But the question is, who needs that support most desperately – the Big Mac or the Small Fry?

The Keeping Workers Paid + Employed Act (a section of the COVID-19 stimulus bill) was originally intended to support small independent businesses. Amidst deadlock and partisan disputes, last-minute legislative changes opened up federal funding to larger franchisees — the big businesses that are newly qualified will take more than half of the allocated support provided. Masquerading these franchisees as small businesses will pull the rug out from under independent bars and restaurants.

This bill is headed to the House — at this point, we need to focus on our employees and how we can function with 8-weeks of payroll support. Now is the time to organize and more clearly define the needs of actual small independent businesses. These types of restaurants are uniquely valuable to our communities and our economy, but we are among the most vulnerable in this public health crisis. As independent voices we barely register a blip on the radar, but speaking with one voice we will show our leaders that #sizematters.

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This is critical.  Our support of individual restaurants is important, but here is a fact taken from the National Restaurant Association website:

The coronavirus epidemic is the greatest crisis our industry has ever faced.  Economic forecasts indicate that restaurants and the foodservice industry could sustain $225 billion in losses and eliminate 5-7 million jobs over the next three months.

The National Restaurant Association has a restaurant recovery plan.  For more information and to express your support go here.

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The Independent Restaurant Coalition is proposing the following relief for the restaurant industry:

  • 6-month income replacement program valued at $440 B, conditioned upon full and continued employment of all restaurant staff, payment of rents to landlords, and ongoing payables to suppliers.
  • ​An income-replacement grant program that allows us to pay our suppliers will empower these businesses in turn to pay their own, with a protective effect immediately felt up and throughout the supply chain.
  • ​No size limit eligibility attached to this income grant relief as many seemingly large restaurant groups are comprised of dozens of smaller operators, all facing the same catastrophic effects of closure due to COVID-19.

Go to https://www.saverestaurants.co/  for information and support.

Restaurant Workers Relief Programs

From Washington City Paper: New DC Hospitality Coalition Mobilizes to ‘Save as Many Restaurants as Possible

The newly formed DC Hospitality Coalition, whose website launched over the weekend. The forum lets allied hospitality workers “share information, solve the challenges they collectively face, and keep hope alive.”

Its creators—all owners or employees of small, independent D.C. restaurants—want the site to be a resource hub for laid off bar and restaurant workers and operators who are stretched thin as they navigate the coronavirus crisis. They also plan to unite restaurant industry stakeholders in local and federal advocacy efforts. 

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Hook Hall Helps is distributing care kits and family meals for hospitality industry workers in DC daily from 6:00 to 8:00 PM. A growing number of area businesses and volunteers are providing food and lending their support Visit their website to learn more.

Hook Hall is partnering with the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington Foundation– Educated Eats to create a Workers Relief Fund to support industry worker relief measures.  Donate here.

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Chef Erik Bruner-Yang has created The Power of 10. As explained on Eater DC:  initiative operates on simple math. Donations start at $10 — the advertised cost of food and labor to cover one meal — and go up in multiples of 10. Every $10,000 in donations collected on its website will fund a restaurant to hire 10 chefs for a week and buy ingredients to make 1,000 meals for a partnered nonprofit or community. Bruner-Yang has gamed out the $10,000 to provide an hourly wage of $14.50 for workers and a food cost of $4.20 per meal, which the chef says typically translates to an entree in the $16 to $18 range. Each participating restaurant can make about 142 free meals. Donate here.

A virtual tip jar has been created to offer support to specific servers and bartenders who have been affected by the mandated closures. The growing list is in a Google document available here.

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The Lee Initiative. Your donation goes directly to feeding the workers of the independent restaurant industry that now find themselves out of work.  All donations from your city will go to fund the participating restaurant in your city to help feed more people in need.  Participating cities:  Louisville, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Seattle, Cincinnati, New York City.  More cities to be added soon. Details here.

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The James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund is launching a fund that will be gathering support from corporate, foundation, and individual donors to provide micro-grants to independent food and beverage businesses in need. Details here.

Sources for Updated Coverage

A growing number of restaurants are offering Passover menus. Eater DC published a comprehensive list. https://dc.eater.com/maps/passover-dinner-seder-takeout-delivery-catering-dc-restaurants

Eater DC is covering all the latest news, including where to get take-out or delivery, which is one way area restaurants are helping to stay afloat. This is changing rapidly, so be sure to check here for details. The story by editor Gabe Hiatt called “Opting Out of Takeout” details the dilemmas restaurateurs are facing at this critical time, and the life-changing decisions they are forced to make.

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The blog 17 Degrees DC has compiled a list of DC restaurants open for carry-out and delivery, along with links of where you can provide financial support.

Washingtonian Magazine is also keeping an updated list of restaurants offering takeout and delivery.

More on The Impact on DC Restaurants

The impact of COVID-19 as it relates to the restaurant industry is unfolding in ways that are just beginning to fully sink in. Here are a few places to read more.

Washington City Paper, led by food editor Laura Hayes, has unique in-depth coverage related to the impact of COVID-19.  The latest:

  • Undocumented Immigrants Laid Off From D.C. Restaurants Worry About the Future 4/6/2020

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On Eater DC: The Little Things Helping People in D.C.’s Restaurant Industry Manage Their Anxiety 4/1/20

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Rina Rapuano wrote this for Arlington Magazine: Local Businesses, Residents Providing Food Assistance 3/23/20

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In Washingtonian A Michelin-Star Chef Is Now Your Delivery Driver 3/26/20

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The Washington Post‘s Tim Carman wrote this story: Crippled by coronavirus, restaurants want assistance from the same governments that shut them down 3/18/20

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Kristen Hartke wrote a story for The Washington Post : Gift cards, merchandise and to-go orders: Here’s how restaurants say customers should support them 3/18/20

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Thrillist published a story by Lani Furbank:  DC Hospitality Industry Galvanize to Support One Another and Community 3/17/20

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Sabrina Medora of Unplated is conducting a series of interviews with chefs detailing their fears in this unprecedented time.

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Les Dames d’Escoffier DC

As a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier International, an organization of women leaders in the food, beverage, hospitality, and related industries, I’m dedicating a special section here listing member restaurants and businesses that are continuing to serve our communities.

 Stacey Adams‘ Tastings Gourmet Market in Annapolis has added many more staples and much-needed items to her product line so her customers do not have to go to crowded grocery stores. Her staff’s sanitizing procedures and graciousness in handling business was noticed by a MD government tourism division employee. She told the staff that during the pandemic, she is promoting and noting local businesses on her bulletin board. She took a pix of the store and staff and said she would be back to shop. For more info, click here.   

 Amy Brandwein‘s Centrolina and Piccolina are closed for dining but both restaurants are offering takeout and delivery. Amy’s Centrolina market remains open offering her full line of fresh produce, meats and fish as well as staples and wine. All grocery items can be delivered as well. For more information, click here.  

 Ruth Gresser‘s Pizza Paradiso restaurants’ dine-in services have closed but all her locations, save Old Town Alexandria, remain open for online orders and delivery.  Click here for more information.  

 Ris Lacoste‘s eponymous restaurant RIS is closed until further notice but began takeout and delivery service today. For more information, click here.   

 Michelene Mendelsohn and her family’s  Sunnyside Restaurant Group, which includes We The Pizza, Santa Rosa Taqueria and Good Stuff Eatery, are  open for delivery and takeout. As a special service, it is  generously offering Kids Eat Free during the COVID-19 pandemic at all of its restaurants.

For more information, click here

 Suzanne Simon’s and Bettina Stern‘s Chaia Tacos are closed but continue to offer takeout.  Innovatively, they have created a Chaia Enchilada Supper Club with a changing lineup of tacos offerings each day to order on Mondays and Wednesdays for pickup on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. at their Georgetown and Chinatown locations.

 Janet Yu‘s Hollywood East restaurant is closed but continues to offer takeout and delivery services. www.HollywoodEast.com 

Maria Kopsidas, owner of Cookology, is offering reheat and serve meal kits at the Ballston Quarter Location. More information here.

Christina Ricci, owner of I Ricci launched the i Ricchi Food Club, , a pre-paid pick-up food service offering authentic Italian cuisine with a pre-set four course menu for 2-8 people.  They are also offering a To Go menu for lunch and dinner (www.iricchidc.com) and delivery with GrubHub.

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America Eats Now

On March 22, The New York Times published an opinion piece by José Andrés titled “We Have a Food Crisis Unfolding Out of Sight.”

An excerpt:

Every industry group should make its case in this crisis. But only those of us who work in restaurants can help revive the economy while feeding and building our communities at the same time. Restaurants were shut down by our governments; they can be revived by our governments to serve the people in their hour of greatest need.

These challenges can seem overwhelming, but we believe the most effective solutions are often right in front of us. Our small nonprofit has safely prepared and served food in cholera-stricken Mozambique by being meticulous about our daily work. That cholera experience equipped us with the sanitation protocols to feed the virus-infected cruise ships in Japan and California.

In every disaster zone where we cook for the many, we find that a plate of food is never just a meal on a dish. It is a plate of hope: a message from the community that someone, somewhere cares.

Now is the time for Congress and the Trump administration to show they care. Together we can ensure that America Eats Now.

Please read it and then make a donation to World Central Kitchen.

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I look forward to sharing a restaurant meal with you sometime soon. I will be updating this post periodically as stories and information unfolds. Coming soon: I will use my News & Events page to cover details related to specific restaurants.

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*Shout out to tomato curry ramen at Hatoba in DC. It’s currently available for takeout, although the Navy Yard location is too far for me to consider at this time.

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