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The Triangle’s Food and Beverage Industry Needs Your Help Now

Many restaurants have shifted gears and employees are out of work — here’s how to help

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Many restaurants around the Triangle continue to offer takeout and delivery after shelter-in-place orders set in for many counties this week, while some have made the tough decision to close doors until further notice. Others have switched gears to run with the times and offer a new way of operating in order to keep their restaurants and staff hanging on by a thread. Plus, there’s still a shortage of meat in the Triangle, so restaurants are now offering to sell butchered steaks, ground beef, and chicken to help feed the hungry social distancing community.

On Monday, Ashley Christensen made the decision to close Poole’s, Poole’side Pies, and Beasley’s Chicken & Honey, the three remaining open restaurants under her restaurant group. “Our team worked so hard this past week to make takeout and curbside work, and we were overwhelmed by the support of our community — you all came by in record numbers to enjoy pizza, fried chicken sandwiches, and mac au gratin to go,” Christensen says. “But ultimately, we were increasingly concerned about the safety and feasibility of this as a long-term plan. Rather than continue, we are shifting gears.”

Shifting gears is what many businesses and purveyors have had to do in the past week. As diners are looking for ways to support their communities, Eater Carolinas will be collecting a running list of fundraisers, Venmo accounts accepting virtual tips, and other opportunities to help staff weather the storm while waiting to reopen.

Here’s how to help now:

A Community Food Hub

On Saturday, March 21, Acme Food & Beverage Company, along with Fleet Feet’s CEO, Tom Raynor, launched Carrboro United, a one-stop, drive-thru operation with the goal of minimizing person-to-person contact and keeping the community well fed — while also supporting local food and beverage businesses and farmers while restaurants are temporarily closed to the public. “We are digesting what’s happening and shifting gears.” says Zoë Dehmer, director of operations and planning at Acme. It’s a model the team hopes to share with similar communities after selling 1,000 meals on day one. Carrboro United’s hub will be open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays in front of Cat’s Cradle, featuring rotating chefs, farmers, bakers, and purveyors to offer different chef-driven meals, coffee boxes, fresh farm produce, and more to families. Place orders online by 6 p.m. a day prior to chosen hub day.

Family Meal Plan Menus

“We are still offering our ClubHouse dinner kits out of our commissary kitchen, and feel that we can minimize the risk much more through this model, with scheduled pickups and deliveries — for our staff and our guests,” says Ashley Christensen. Meals are delivered three times a week with a set menu for a family of four. Coleen Speaks, owner of Hummingbird, a trendy spot serving American fare in Raleigh, turned to her other side of the business, PoshNosh Catering, to offer an additional menu of family-style meals. Hummingbird will still offer regular takeout, but PoshNosh brings forth hearty dishes such as meatloaf, spice-rubbed whole chicken, and lasagna.

In Raleigh, Sean Fowler, of Mandolin created made-from-scratch Mandolin Farmhouse Meals that show up at your door fully cooked. From delicious fried chicken to braised collard greens and creamy smashed potatoes, a proper country supper is minutes away. Plus, tack on Fowler’s farm fresh eggs, hydroponic lettuces and house-cured and smoked bacon. New to the menu is Easter Dinner, where patrons can order Easter ham, whole cooked chicken, asparagus salad, dessert, and even bottles of wine.

Durham residents can shake up family meals with to-go platters from Zweli’s, the only authentic Zimbabwean restaurant in the country. The spot is offering up sizable options like whole Piri Piri chicken platters and samosa platters, as well as vegan and vegetarian options. Whatever you do, don’t sleep on Zimbabwean peanut butter spiced collard greens.

Virtual Tip Jars

As bars remain shut, virtual tip jars become the norm. Kingfisher, a farm-inspired cocktail bar in Durham, hosts a daily virtual happy hour at 4:30 p.m on Instagram, showing fans how to make cocktails safely at home — with a side of entertainment and booze history. A virtual tip jar, by way of Venmo (@kingfisherdurham), brings an average of $150 per day. “It will allow us to replenish our employee compensation fund completely by the time it runs out in early May,” says owner Sean Umstead. “It also just feels great to connect with regulars and friends of the bar.” Durham Distillerys Corpse Reviver, a gin-focused cocktail bar opening in summer 2020, is also partaking in virtual happy hour each day at 3 p.m. on Instagram. The bar’s general manager, Kristel Poole, will lead the series.

Restaurants Morph Into Grocery Services

Chef Drew Smith of Kō•än in Cary shifted gears from a restaurant to Kmart, a pop-up initiative offering curbside-pickup and delivery groceries, overnight. “I thought of how to connect the abundance of food with the people who need it,” Smith says. “Store shelves were barren while I had coolers full of food.”. Think fresh produce, eggs, meat, toilet paper, and even specialty items like Kewpie mayonnaise and pre-portioned cookie dough, all available via a safe, online ordering form. “This concept was also driven by the 40-plus people we had to lay off last Wednesday,” Smith says. “If we can really get some traction behind this, my cooks can become packagers and our servers can become drivers — It’s an opportunity to help our restaurant family.”

Inside Transfer Co. Food Hall in Raleigh, Alimentari at Left Bank, a butcher shop with Italian specialties, pivoted to become an Italian grocer. “We’ve definitely seen a huge increase in raw meat sales,” says chef Josh DeCarolis. We’ve also been selling a lot of components to make a good meal, like fresh pasta, tomato sauce, cheese, etc. — and beautiful eggs, a shitload of beautiful eggs.” New to the mix are meal kits via online ordering such as Burger Kits, fully equipped with all the craft burger ingredients, plus Union Special buns and potato salad.

In Durham, East Durham Bake Shop morphed into a bakery-meets-grocery store, offering their popular baked goods plus staples like toilet paper, baking supplies, condiments, local produce, and more. Take and bake pot pies and ready-to-bake pie dough and delicious ready-to-eat snacks like hummus, smoked trout dip and egg salad are also available.

Barbecue, Pizza, and Burger Takeout

It’s clear that barbecue, pizza, and burgers are the coveted foods of the COVID-19 outbreak. “People are used to ordering barbecue by the bulk and to go,” says Wyatt Dickson, owner of Picnic in Durham and newcomer Wyatt’s Barbecue, set to open late 2020 in Raleigh. Dickson is taking Picnic pre-orders for Raleigh pickup each week (check Instagram for pre-order dates) at Mordecai Beverage Company. Barbecued meats by the pound and sides by the pint are on the menu. “This forces us to get our takeout game strong — we’ll be leaner and meaner when the sun rises again,” he adds. Lawrence BBQ, set to open in fall 2020, created a “barbecue paradise hotline” during the COVID-19 outbreak. “We didn’t expect to have to switch gears like this, but we have to keep moving forward on the construction of Lawrence and we have to get paid.” Wood’s menu includes brisket, pulled pork, and turkey and all the fixins (like comforting mac and cheese).

Chef Teddy Diggs, owner of Coronato in Carrboro, added delivery for the first time so customers can curb pizza cravings without leaving the house. “We are not cutting pizzas, so they can be reheated quite easily,” Diggs says. “The original pizza Romana is baked first then cooled before being re-heated in an oven to order, so our thin and crispy crust works well in this format.” At Trophy Brewing & Pizza, on Morgan Street in downtown Raleigh, owner Chris Powers witnessed a 40 percent increase in takeout during the COVID-19 crisis. “People have been ordering a lot more large pizzas,” Powers notes, and orders have started earlier than normal. Orders are 100 percent online with zero contact, and guests can also order beer and wine to go.

In Raleigh’s Oakwood neighborhood, Anthony Guerra has managed to whip out over 300 pizzas a night at Oakwood Pizza Box, but he’s battling his insurance agency to allow them to continue to employ bartenders and servers for pizza delivery. Patrons can also order painkillers, margaritas, and bruleed greyhound mixers from SideBar in Cary and Videri cookies. All orders are now 100 percent online, and guests receive a quoted time for pickup to safely social distance.

Postmaster Restaurant in Cary became Gov’t Cheeseburger last week.Right now people want easy, and they want familiar,” says chef Christopher Lopez. “We are doing what we can to give that to them, in the form of a burger they’ve been craving since childhood.” The response has been tremendous, he says. The simple menu of burgers, grilled cheese, wings, and salads is available Tuesday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Industry Meals and Paying It Forward

While Christensen’s restaurants remain closed and many of the staff members have been laid off, the chef is still committed to ensuring her team is taken care of. “We are still in constant communication with our laid-off teammates, and are offering weekly grocery pickups and as many other resources as we can find while we’re in this incredibly difficult period,” she says. Meanwhile, chef Scott Crawford is using tips from to-go orders at Jolie and Crawford and Son to pay it forward with meals to his staff members from Backyard Bistro — while supporting another restaurant.

For Wood, providing meals for service-industry workers is a top priority. “The most important thing is that we are able to stay in a position to provide free meals for service-industry professionals that are all of a sudden out of work,” he says. “We served quite a few folks this past Monday and are working on a custom menu just for them.” Industry workers can put in orders from Lawrence Barbecue each Monday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. for the week. “As long as we are here with the smokers lit, we’ll provide a meal to anyone in need,” says Wood.

Raleigh’s pay-what-you-can nonprofit cafe, A Place at the Table, is serving 100 free meals on average, when operating. “I want people to come and pay half price if they can, or nothing,” says founder Maggie Kane. “I want service industry folks to get in here — they are not going to stand in line at soup kitchens, but they can definitely come to us (and order on the phone).”

Andrew Ullom and his dedicated team at Union Special have shifted gears to contactless payment and a more condensed menu to adjust. “Lots of people are still purchasing the Pay It Forward Loaves [$5] and it has been crucial,” says chef Kaylin Fulp, who notes they’ve donated over 100 loaves to date. Funds go toward the cost of goods and production of bread for delivery to organizations working directly with communities in need.

In effort to help restaurant and hospitality friends, Trophy Brewing Co. created Trophy Helps — a partnership with Sysco, Digital Minerva, Bridge the Gap Mission and Pale Fire Brewing to put food on the table of those in need. Monday through Friday, no-contact pickups will take place from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., or until out of food.

Raleigh entrepreneur, G Patel, launched a #HopeForHospitality, a movement involving local restaurants that come together to offer free meals for hospitality workers displaced by COVID-19. “It’s a small token of our appreciation to our friends who have served us time and time again,” says Patel. “We hope it can help them have one less thing to worry about day-to-day and ease the pressure during this challenging time.” Restaurants such as Lawrence Barbecue, Mulino Italian Kitchen & Bar, Edwards Mill Bar & Grill, State of Beer, Cantina 18, Raleigh Beer Garden, Diced, Sullivan’s, Virgil’s Original Taqueria will take turns offering a weekday meal. Industry workers can sign up online for one free meal per weekday.

Immigrant Workers That Don’t Qualify for Government Aid

Marshall Davis, owner of Ex-Voto Cocina Nixtamal, a taco joint opening inside forthcoming Durham Food Hall, started All Hands Raleigh —a community-driven fundraising effort to donate 100% of proceeds to help food and beverage works who need it the most. “Vital members of our hospitality community are ineligible for government assistance and often work the hardest,” says Davis. “All Hands is about taking care of the whole team, just as we would before our restaurant’s doors were closed,” he adds. Davis will launch a yard sign campaign next week, where guests can sponsor an All Hands sign in his yard (downtown Raleigh) for any donation, as well as purchase a sign for their own yard.

Buy Merchandise From Your Favorite Restaurant

Can’t buy your favorite meal? Buy a shirt, baseball cap, mug or cookbook instead. Many restaurants, chefs, pit masters, breweries and bars are pushing merchandise to supplement loss of income.

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