Members of Houston’s restaurant community are uniting to help their thousands of colleagues who’ve lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic. Houston Shift Meal is a volunteer organization that has emerged to organize free meals for restaurant workers in need.
Created by local sommelier Cat Nguyen, publicist Jonathan Beitler, and event organizer Claudia Solis — three people who also helped organized restaurant resources to feed people displaced during Hurricane Harvey — Houston Shift Meals’ goal is to have daily options for unemployed restaurant workers to obtain fresh, hot meals.
Also sometimes known as “family meal,” restaurants serve shift meals to their staff at the beginning or end of service.
“That meal is what brings you down and helps you feel human,” Nguyen tells CultureMap. “It’s a way for front of the house and back of the house to come together as a family.”
Working with both individual donors as well as sponsors such as Folio Fine Wines, Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Hendrick’s Gin, MundoVino, and Trinchero Family Estates, Houston Shift Meal collects money that’s distributed to restaurants in $250 increments. In exchange, the restaurant agrees to prepare at least 50 meals that will be given away.
So far, a number of restaurants have signed on, including B.B. Italia, Backstreet Cafe, Cherry Block (in Bravery Chef Hall), Field & Tides, MKT Bar, and the Phoenix on Westheimer. Private chef Alvin Schultz is preparing meals that will be distributed Saturday morning at the Urban Harvest Farmers Market, and Goodnight Hospitality is distributing boxes of raw ingredients sourced from the company’s Goodthyme Farm and other purveyors.
Nguyen notes that they’re looking to recruit more restaurants to participate, including those that may already been feeding their furloughed workers.
“We’d like for them to reach out and apply for funds,” she says. “It’s not sustainable if you’re doing it out of your own pocket. We’d like for people to feed their staff and their neighbor’s staff as well.”
People who are interested in obtaining a free meal can follow Houston Shift Meal’s events page on Facebook. They should be prepared to provide some sort of proof that they worked at a restaurant, such as a recent pay stub.
“Ideally, we’d like to have eight to 10 locations around the city doing this, so that in any neighborhood you could pick up a meal if you’re in the industry,” Beitler says.