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How Restaurants Are Helping Healthcare Workers

Beyond just dropping off a few free meals, many restaurants operators are going the extra mile to take care of hospital workers on the front line of the pandemic—improving morale in the community as well as among their own staff.

Photo: Courtesy Dough Doughnuts.

Steven Klein
Partner, Dough Doughnuts, New York

Back on March 27th, we decided to do what we called Frontline Sweet Support. We raised some money and we started delivering doughnuts to hospitals. We weren’t delivering just 50 doughnuts—we were doing like 100, 200, 300 doughnuts. We did that for two weeks into April, and then I said, “You know what? There’s something wrong with this because we’re just delivering donuts to different departments. There is a better way to do this.” I called up some coffee shops. We’ll do coffee and donuts, because the hospitals love coffee, too. Then I called one of my guys that I’m working with on a protein drink. And then we even got a charity involved, the Kids for Kids Foundation. I got Jill Zarin from Real Housewives of New York involved too because she was raising money.

Elmhurst Hospital was one of the first that we did because they were the hardest hit hospital. I got a hold of the CEO and the COO, and I said, “I’m going to deliver you 500 donuts, 500 coffees and teas, 500 protein drinks. And you’ll control the distribution, but the whole hospital will know about it.” They loved it.

We also did Memorial Sloan Kettering, and we actually serviced every floor in the entire hospital. Then we did a big event up in Montefiore Hospital. They closed down the streets. They had this guy, Willie Colón, he’s an old-time singer. They had fire trucks. It was like a street fair. Everybody loved it. All these people that we did it with, they said it changed them. The donuts made everybody so happy because nobody was bringing sweets. Everybody was giving pizza. How much pizza can you have?

Ralph Bower
CEO, The Melt, San Francisco

I saw a lot of healthcare workers and first responders in line at one of our restaurants in downtown San Francisco. I thought it would be nice to give them their meals for free. That very rapidly grew to all our restaurants, and then it kind of went viral. We’ve given out over 14,000 meals. It went from letting our teams know that we had their backs to letting the first responders know that we had their backs as well. We did this because we thought it was the right thing to do, and we wanted to make sure that we were strong community partners. But what ended up being an even bigger success is that it gave our restaurant teams a feeling of purpose. It felt like they were doing something special for first responders and their community. The outpouring of support that we’ve gotten from the community has been just unbelievable. Our guest feedback has been absolutely off the charts. I’m convinced that if you do the right thing by your teams during this, and you do the right thing for your community during this, when it is all over, they’re going to do the right thing by you. And that’s what we’ve seen so far.

Photo: Courtesy Fry the Coop.

Joe Fontana
Owner, Fry the Coop, Chicago

We have a huge hospital right down the street from our original location on the Southside of Chicago. There’s 3,000 employees that work there. Over the past couple of years we got to know a big group that would come and eat with us—doctors, nurses, and residents. They had 30 ER nurses on home quarantine. One of the nurses was telling me, “Half of our staff is gone. We’re all working doubles, sleeping overnight.” It was sad hearing her story. We’re stressing out over making money and chicken sandwiches, and she’s having to segregate herself from her family. So we were like, “We’ll bring you guys lunch sometime.” And she was like, “That would be awesome.” So we started bringing lunch to the hospital a couple of days a week. And my mom was like, “Oh my God, can I donate to that?” I was like, “I don’t know. Don’t worry about it.” She’s like, “I really want to help out. I’ll give you $100 toward meals for the workers.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s nice.” She’s like, “You should actually put it up on your website and get people to donate.” We did it, and the next thing you know, we told everybody that we will match donations dollar for dollar. So far, we’ve raised $10,000. We keep bringing meals three or four times a week.