Last week, Pies ‘n’ Thighs in Williamsburg celebrated 14 years in business, a milestone for any New York City restaurant, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Though co-owners Carolyn Bane and Sarah Sanneh decided to close their doors to dine-in customers before the city mandated it, they’ve since been preparing all of their Southern-style staples—fried chicken, biscuits, egg sandwiches, butter pecan donuts, and a bevy of pies—for delivery and contactless pickup only.
“So much of our business is take out and delivery anyway,” said Bane, who was multitasking at home, preparing lunch for her 6-year-old son as we spoke. What they had never done before, was deliver meals en masse to healthcare workers at Woodhull Hospital. Pies ‘n’ Thighs had caught wind of other restaurants that were giving customers the option of buying a meal for staff at local hospitals, and decided to follow suit. (To donate, you purchase a Bucket Donation from their online menu, select pickup, and they’ll match your order with sides and biscuits.) To date they’ve delivered over $10,000 worth of meals for the hospital staff, catering breakfast with their Hippie Banjo sandwiches (a fried egg and cheddar with sprouts, avocado and tomatoes on homemade white bread) or a lunch of fried chicken, mac and cheese and chocolate chip cookies.
The charitable aspect of the donated orders works both ways, giving Pies ‘n’ Thighs the ability to offer their remaining employees more hours than they might have otherwise, and keeping everyone as busy as their early days, when it was just a staff of two and all hands were on deck. Rather than have their (now) sole baker travel from the Bronx each day, for instance, they’ve given him fewer longer days while Bane picks up the slack and makes items on the menu that weren’t a part of her previous repertoire. “We’ve been open for 14 years and I’ve never made the donuts,” she said. Now, Bane steps whenever Sarah Sanneh, who is also juggling work and having kids out of school, needs help with the baking.
Nothing quite compares to this new normal in the restaurant industry. “Hurricane Sandy was pretty crazy, no one was working, and Williamsburg was basically untouched, so everyone was just going out [to help others],” Bane recalled. “It was weird to feel so busy knowing that some people’s businesses were completely washed out, and would never be the same again, so that was similar.”
The key difference this time is that the coronavirus outbreak is leaving no restaurant unscathed. Even Pies ‘n’ Thighs has had to lay off 20 employees, essentially half of its staff. “What we’re seeing is business right now; we are doing enough to keep the wheels moving,” she clarified.
But there have been so many hurdles over the years: a second, Lower East Side outpost that closed, a dangerous construction project near the original location that forced them to shut down half the restaurant for two months. “We’ve gone through so many things, to some degree it just feels like another unknown challenge,” said Bane. “And because we’re still open at this point…hopefully the trend is that we’re getting through this and it will be over at some point, and we’ll still be open. But at the end of the day, it’s more important that everyone pull through healthily than stay open.”
Any restaurant or caterer offering delivery or takeout right now is essentially tossing out a lifeline for support so that it can pay as many employees and bills until it’s safe to resume some modicum of dine-in business. But beyond supporting your neighborhood haunts by purchasing to-go cocktails, provisions, gift cards and crowdfunding for employees, here is a short list of ways to buy a restaurant meal for our new heroes, the doctors and nurses treating Covid patients, as well as others in need.
Feed the Frontlines NYC
When Tarallucci e Vino owner Luca Di Pietro had to close his 5 Manhattan cafes for dine-in customers and lay off 90 employees, a friend showed her support by purchasing 40 meals with the request that he deliver it to a nearby ER. That first delivery became the basis for this NYC service that has since re-employed 30 restaurant workers and delivered over 10,000 meals to staff at over 20 hospitals. Williamsburg’s Mesa Coyacan and Zona Rosa Chef Ivan Garcia, who has already delivering meals to the epicenter of the epicenter, Elmhurst Hospital, has since partnered with Feed the Frontlines NYC as well. Donate to the fund to help supply meals and support staff from all of these restaurants.
World Central Kitchen
World Central Kitchen is Chef José Andrés’s food relief program that provides meals to individuals in need in the wake of disasters. During the Covid crisis, they’re funneling their resources into feeding health care workers, employing restaurant workers, and providing community meals. A map lets you zoom into local places offering support (partner Luke’s Lobster, for instance, lets you call to order a lobster roll at 25% off, and have it delivered to a health care worker). But the best way to support their efforts is to donate to their nationwide food relief fund here.
The Migrant Kitchen together with City Harvest and Bartleby & Sage
Palestinian food activist and chef Nasser Jaber is the founder of The Migrant Kitchen, which is delivering 1000 free meals a day to healthcare workers at Bellevue Hospital Center, Lenox Hill Hospital, and Memorial Sloan Kettering and families in need. Donate to their relief fund and you’ll also support Brooklyn catering company Bartleby & Sage who is helping prepare the meals.
View this post on Instagram
ONE LOVE in Brooklyn! We are partnering with our friends over @hometownbarbque, where our buddy @wdurney and his team are smoking up some delicious whole hogs generously donated by @macmurdock10 @debraggameats. If you are a restaurant worker that lost your job or most of your wages, please swing by our food bank @olmstednyc to pickup a free meal and supplies. We’re here for you Brooklyn! #olmsteding #TooSmallToFail #GiveBack #ChefsElevatingChefs
The Lee Initiative [Let’s Empower Employment]
Founded by a Kentucky chef, this program provides food to restaurant workers in need. Locally, Olmsted in Prospect Heights and Gertie in Williamsburg are participating by providing a food bank and basic necessities like toothpaste seven days a week from 4-7pm to furloughed restaurant workers (and really anyone in need; Olmsted’s latest Instagram post makes it clear this is open to the community.) Support their food program with a donation to the Lee Initiative and select Brooklyn as the region you want to support. To donate supplies, email email@example.com.
Since March 21, Stronger Together Brooklyn has been sending daily meals to the ER and ICU teams at NYP Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, all while supporting local restaurants like Red Hook Lobster, Mile End Deli, Betty Bakery and others. To date they have raised almost $40k, but donations to the initiative have been significantly reduced in the past few days. To give them a boost to help during the COVID-19 crisis, donate to their Gofundme here.
The founder of catering company FoodtoEat, which partners with immigrant, women, and minority-owned restaurants in NYC and books catering jobs for them at corporate offices, is placing orders with its partners who then give all the prepared food to shelters and food banks in NYC. Donate to their fund here.
View this post on Instagram
Our city is fighting to survive. But there are also other battles our city is fighting: Loneliness Powerlessness Fear And then someone steps out and decides, in the midst of all of these things to love someone. In this case, Joanna carried an incredibly heavy bag filled with items you have donated to the food pantry to a family in need. A family in our neighborhood. One of us. We handed the bag to Joanna outside the coffee shop and she carried it to a home a few blocks away and left it at the family’s door and all of a sudden we didn’t feel quite as powerless. And I bet this sweet family didn’t feel so alone either. We get to choose today to take care of one another. We join into a better story, a story of a city surviving. A story of people rising up in the midst of catastrophe and reaching out and (even if it’s still from 6 feet apart) holding one other. Friends. We are here for you. If you are someone that is alone and afraid to leave your home then reach out to us and we will send you lunch and we will bring you food and toothpaste and we will hold you in this. Friends. If you want to help care for our neighborhood and feel just slightly less powerless then join us. Bring something to the food pantry. Contribute to the gofundme. Volunteer to bring someone lunch. We are going to get through this. We are going to get through this together. . . . @_oropendola #standingtogether #wewillgetthroughthis
Roots Cafe, South Slope
In South Slope, Roots Cafe has pivoted to a soup kitchen and supply bank, using funds from its GoFundMe to prepare free grilled cheese and soups for the community and to offer a space where neighbors can donate or pick up necessities.
Vinnie’s Pizzeria lets you donate a pie to different essential workers each day. Order a pizza to be picked up and type Donate in the memo, and your pizza will go to local police officers, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, bodega workers and others working essential jobs each day.
NYC Food Hub Map
The Food Education Fund has created a crowdsourced map of places serving free food for children and families who need it. You can support their efforts by donating to or ordering from them.
Is your neighborhood restaurant offering a food donation program? Add it to the comments. The Infatuation has a good list as well.