Costa Mesa nightclub Strut teams with Miguel’s Jr. restaurant, LGBTQ Center Orange County for lunch giveaway

Strut Bar & Club event director Venessa Lynn, left, gives multiple lunches in two bags to Rafael Lopez and his children, of Costa Mesa, during Wednesday's free meals event.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Roberto Rivas of Costa Mesa was on his way to pick up school lunches for his three children at Rea Elementary on Wednesday morning when he noticed a Miguel’s Jr. Homestyle Mexican Food truck.

Rivas got the lunches for his children, Sophia, Roberto and Daniel, before heading over to check out the scene in front of Strut Bar & Club on 17th Street.

He picked up three free lunches from the drive-through, with a burrito, chips and salsa, and a drink. Rivas said he was appreciative for the help in a tough time. The future of his job as a chef at Lighthouse Café in Newport Beach is uncertain due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, he said.

“It’s hard for us right now,” he said, adding that his wife also lost her job.

Strut and Miguel’s Jr. aimed to help with the free food giveaway Wednesday, in association with the LGBTQ Center Orange County. They donated 470 free meals, starting at 9 a.m.

Strut owner Luke Nero said the LGBTQ Center publicized the event to its members, and the food giveaway was originally set to be for members of the local LGBTQ community. However, no one was turned away Wednesday.

“We’ve seen grandmothers, people with kids, people in scrubs on their way to work,” Nero said. “We wanted to contribute to the local community somehow, anyhow. Luckily for us, we have an amazing parking lot in front of our building where we can facilitate a drive-through food giveaway. We initially wanted to do some kind of outreach to the queer community, but everybody’s affected by this. We’re a gay club, so that was our initial thought process, but this is just for everybody.”

With a long line of cars waiting at Strut Bar & Club, general manager Aaron Reid passes out bottles of water before handing out lunch bags during Wednesday's free meals event.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Strut, which opened last September, has also been hard-hit by the pandemic. Nero said the club has been closed since March 15.

The food giveaway was staffed by employees of the club. The initial order was for 120 meals, but that quickly was surpassed.

Miguel’s Jr. has four Orange County locations. The Costa Mesa location, at the corner of 19th Street and Newport Blvd., was the first to open in 2012.

“I know Luke very well, and Luke said he wanted to do something for the community,” said Miguel’s Jr. president and CEO Javier Vasquez, who was also on hand Wednesday. “I told him, ‘If you meet me halfway and staff it with your staff, I’ll meet you halfway with the food.’ The partnership worked out that way. We’re trying our best to give back as much as we can.”

Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley said that the city has had a good relationship with Miguel’s Jr. since the Corona-based company entered Orange County. As she watched the long line of cars backing up in the parking lot, Foley said the company has provided food for the city’s high school football and basketball teams in the past.

She thanked those who walked through the parking lot for wearing their masks and practicing social distancing.

With Ramiro Rivas from operations support at left, Miguel's Jr. Homestyle Mexican Food district manager Larissa Bailey, right, adds a soda to a lunch bag during Wednesday's event.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

“Really, what we’re finding is that there’s this whole group of people that are hungry,” Foley said. “They’re low-wage workers who either worked in hospitality or in food service, kitchens and different places. Housekeepers, nannies, they don’t have jobs and they don’t have unemployment necessarily either. It’s a struggle right now, so to be able to support families right in the heart of the Westside is really generous.”

Nero said that he’s hopeful that Strut will be able to reopen soon. But, for now, he said he was happy to be able to contribute during the pandemic.

“We’ve been replenishing [the meals] by the hundreds, every 15 minutes it feels like,” he said. “It’s just a reflection of the times. Nobody is immune from this scenario. It doesn’t matter what demographic, even what financial bracket you fall in. People have been hit from all angles.”

Shalimar Learning Center, the founding facility of educational nonprofit Think Together, on Costa Mesa’s Westside has pivoted from offering academic services to filling in for family’s basic needs.

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