Red Gravy chef Eric Brenner and crew prepare 60 pans of lasagna (capable of feeding 60 families) for the first Meals to Heal donation, this one going to UC Health workers.
Chef Eric Brenner reached out with an update on Meals to Heal
, which now has a dedicated website
Brenner says on that site, "people can raise their own money, choose their neighborhood restaurants to provide the food, and decide where the need in their community is greatest."
He says four states around the country have thus far gotten on board to deliver meals, with 15 more planning to participate this upcoming week.
For its part, Red Gravy has now sent out more than 400 meals inside two weeks, says Brenner. With next week's upcoming distribution to UCHealth, Kangaroo Coffee
plans to join in with coffee donations.
**** ORIGINAL POST: 5:43 P.M., THURSDAY, MARCH 26 ****
"We are trying to survive and help everyone at the same time. Putting our oxygen on ourselves before we help others ... chefs are innately problems solvers, we're savvy and we can get stuff done."
That's Red Gravy
chef Eric Brenner, telling me how Chef José Andrés' book We Fed an Island
in-part inspired him to launch Meals to Heal
, a local GoFundMe initiative to aid two frontline industries at once: the (overwhelmed) healthcare and (beleaguered) restaurant industries.
"This effort is designed to provide food for our healthcare workers, first responders and emergency services personnel while simultaneously supporting our restaurants and foodservice business community," he explains on the page. He hopes to pioneer the model, then "try and export it to other interested restaurants."
Red Gravy remains open for pickup and delivery service and Brenner's taking every precaution he can to keep staff and consumers safe. He limits staff to no more than 10 at a time in the building, and prevents the public from entering at all — they bring food out to delivery people and takeout guests. They also try to maintain as much distance as they can from one another while on site. Even before the on-site service shutdown orders came last week, Brenner had begun seating guests at every other table to spread them out.
Since the shutdown, Brenner's been able to hire back some of the workers Red Gravy had to initially lay off, though most are working only about half the shifts the previously would have. And some have shifted roles; for instance I met a server who's jumped to back-of-the-house and was helping prep lasagna for Meals to Heal. (Shout out to DARS Supply Inc.
for donating the aluminum pans and some supplies.)
In addition — and this is just one more example locally we've seen of how restaurateurs have stepped up in awesome ways to help their staffs during this time — Brenner has told his staff that they (and their direct family members) can come in to eat for free during this shutdown period, even (or especially) those laid off. He's also giving them free paper goods such as toilet paper to take home.
Getting back to chefs being problem solvers, Brenner says he's been through this type emergency situation before, first after 9/11 and then with the 2008 recession, both at restaurants he formerly operated in St. Louis. He says he had one advantage here in that he'd recently scaled up his POS system for online ordering, which allowed him to move rather seamlessly into that comprising the majority of his business now: "If that wasn't lined up we couldn't have pivoted as fast."
Donations to Meals to Heal are separate from Red Gravy's regular service now, but if you wish to help the entity as a whole, consider a donation to the GoFundMe and order some food from Red Gravy.
Brenner says he's trying to keep the cost to around $10 a person on his menu, and one current Family Meal Deal consists of any pasta and any salad plus lemon ricotta cookies for dessert, for $50 — it feeds between four and six people. (A bottle of wine or other spirits can be added on.)