Faced with financial ruin and fearful for their health in these days of rampant coronavirus, some in the restaurant community are responding in the only way they know:
Giving away food.
Stories of generosity abound. Among them:
On their way out the door as they shuttered their restaurants last week, hundreds of chefs cooked off and handed out the remaining perishables in their walk-ins to their out-of-work staff.
Chef Brian Duffy is handing out barbecue meals to jobless restaurant workers at his ArdmoreQ in Ardmore.
McShea’s in Narberth is providing dinner for children and families in need, as are private chefs by the score.
A Facebook group called Food4Staff is collecting money to cook and deliver meals to health-care workers in New Jersey.
Thanks to the largess of his customers, Josh Kim, who owns the Brewerytown sandwich shop Spot Gourmet Burgers, is handing out meals by the dozens to kids who have been shut out of schools, in addition to cooking for paying customers who order pickup or delivery.
Kim’s scenario is like a page from a disaster script.
Struggling financially in recent months, he had the opportunity to move to a bigger location in West Philadelphia with a possible liquor license. “It was a turnkey situation I couldn’t refuse,” Kim said. “This would allow me to not only expand my business but expand revenues. Everything was teed up. We dropped a lot of money on equipment.” He gave 60 days’ notice to his landlord, who quickly signed a new tenant for Spot’s spot, at 2821 W. Girard Ave.
Last week, the bank called. “My credit lines are all frozen,” Kim said he learned.
Kim had to leave but had no way to move. “I lost sleep," he said. "I lost my appetite. Desperation like I have never felt this world.”
Like most people in the restaurant business, Kim, 45, does not know great wealth. He grew up one of six children whose parents operated a sidewalk stand selling handbags and other general merchandise at Broad Street and Snyder Avenue in South Philadelphia. He opened a burger cart at Drexel University in 2012 before going the brick-and-mortar route in late 2015.
After learning of the bank’s decision, “I spent many, many nights just not knowing what to do, to try to put on a smile on my face just so that my family [wife Andrea Rizzo and four children] was not freaked out.”
Then the city ordered sit-down restaurants to close. Though most of his business is takeout and delivery, the news was still grim.
“I said, ‘You know what? I’m done. I’m down for the count.’ Strangely enough, the only glimmer of hope I had was knowing that everybody is in the same boat as me. Everybody is also sharing in this tragedy. That gave me just enough to come up with a eureka moment and say, ‘You know what? I still have food on the table. My kids are eating. And there are now people probably more worse off than I am that don’t have any food,'” he said.
"So I said, ‘The heck with it. I’m going to give it all away because at the end of the day, what am I going to do with a stockpile of food?’ I said, ‘If I’m going to go, I’m going to go out with a bang. I’m gonna give it all away.’ I’m not going to ask for anything. I’m not going to be the victim here. I’m going to rise up and I’m just going to give away what I can. If I can feel good about myself in that respect, maybe I’ll get a good night’s sleep.”
On his way to work Wednesday, he wrote a social media post about his giveaway offer, which was shared extensively. “All of a sudden, people were calling, asking, 'Hey, how do we get this free kid’s meal? It grew even more to where I thought it would.”
That’s where Mike Sivel comes in. Sivel, a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach from Wyndmoor and a longtime Spot customer, saw it. He stopped into the shop and chatted up Kim.
“How much is a burger, fries, and drink?” Kim said Sivel asked.
“Fifteen dollars,” Kim replied.
“Count me in for 10 meals,” Sivel said, sending $150 by Venmo.
“I didn’t think he’d screenshot our conversation and blast it out,” Sivel said, chuckling.
The post snowballed into additional generosity. Sivel emailed his work associates at the Sivel Group, who raised $1,400 for Philabundance and sent an additional $200 toward Kim.
“Josh is who he is," Sivel said. “I’m proud of him as a person. I’m glad this has grown legs. Hopefully he’ll be able to sustain it.”
Kim does not know how much longer he can stay open, though. His landlord, with whom he has a good relationship, has not given him a date to leave. The Venmo account now has about $3,000; he draws it down when he needs to buy food.
“All of a sudden, I have a little bit of a bit of hope — if not so much for my business, because my business is done," Kim said. "But this money is allowing me to keep my guys working. It’s allowing me to feed whoever comes in buying someone a meal.”