Restaurant workers who have been laid off or who have seen a significant reduction in hours and/or pay as a result of the coronavirus pandemic will be eligible for free meals and essential supplies at Nancy Silverton’s Chi Spacca starting Thursday.
The restaurant will be offering 300 dinners to-go nightly, available from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on a first-come, first-serve basis. It will also have supplies such as diapers, wipes, baby food, non-perishable canned foods and cereals, toilet paper and Tylenol available to those in need. Meals are limited to two per person and supplies are limited unless there is an emergency situation.
Recipients are asked to arrive with valid ID and proof of recent restaurant employment (i.e. a pay stub), as well as a list of needs so that workers can pack supplies. People must line up with the recommended 6-foot social distancing measures in place.
Menu details are still being finalized, but there will be a vegetarian option. Organizers request patience in the likely event of long lines.
The relief is possible thanks to a $50,000 grant from Maker’s Mark and the Lee Initiative, a Louisville, Ky.-based program founded by chef Ed Lee that is working on delivering similar grants to several restaurants across the country as the effects of the pandemic continue to wreak havoc on the hospitality industry.
“Sunday night I had to look my restaurant family in the eye and let them know I no longer had work for them,” Silverton said. “This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my career.”
Lee started offering meals and supplies at his own Louisville restaurants on Sunday night; a day later, Louisville-based bourbon giant and Lee Initiative sponsor Maker’s Mark donated its entire marketing budget for the next several months to relief efforts. Lee has spent this week “feverishly trying to get this thing off the ground in as many cities as possible,” he said.
“When I thought of Los Angeles, I immediately thought of Nancy — she’s such an icon, and someone who just cares,” Lee said. “This is her community, and when I reached out, she immediately said yes.”
In addition to Los Angeles, similar grants have been distributed to restaurants in Washington, D.C., and Cincinnati, which will launch relief programs this week. Lee is hoping to get to restaurants in Seattle and New York next.
“We’re trying to find the money, trying to see who needs the most help. It’s unfair because we want to do it everywhere, but we can’t yet,” he said.
With current funds, Chi Spacca will be able to provide meals for two weeks; Silverton urged support for the program at www.LEEInitiative.org. All donations received in March and April will go directly to the restaurant workers relief efforts, and may extend the amount of time that restaurants are able to continue to offer meals and supplies.
“Restaurant workers need your help more than ever,” a spokeswoman for Silverton said. “If we don’t take a stand and do something now, there will not be an independent restaurant industry to speak of when the coronavirus crisis is over.”
In Louisville, Lee said he raised an additional $15,000 for the program in one day, primarily from individual donations under $5 each.
“It’s not just about feeding people — it’s about keeping their spirits up in desperate times, keeping them reassured and calm, and letting them know they are not forgotten,” said Lee. “We see you, and we are trying to help.”