Houston Shift Meal Feeds Hospitality Professionals In Crisis

Even though restaurants have been deemed essential businesses, the requirement to close bars and restaurant dining rooms has left thousands of Houston-area employees without jobs. Those who remain employed are often working reduced hours.

These are also the people who helped feed Houstonians and first responders in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Now, they are trying to feed each other and they need our help.

The team behind one of Harvey’s biggest impromptu relief efforts — the Midtown Kitchen Collective — has launched a new relief effort, Houston Shift Meal. Spearheaded by sommelier Cat Nguyen, with logistical and promotional support from public relations professional Jonathan Beitler and entrepreneur Claudia Solís, the organization’s mission, according to Beitler, is:

“One, provide free meals to employees in the food service and hospitality industry who have been furloughed or laid off due to the COVID-19 crisis, and two, support local restaurants during this time by providing them with funds to help subsidize the costs of preparing these free meals and offering an additional advertising avenue to let the public know they are still open for business.”

Employees of Goodnight Hospitality prepare boxes of food for fellow hospitality professionals. Courtesy photo.

Restaurant owners who are interested in participating can fill out an online application. To participate, the restaurant must be able to provide a minimum of 50 meals in exchange for a $250 sponsorship. Restaurants that already plan to participate include Backstreet Cafe, BB Italia, Black Hole Coffee, El Big Bad, Hugo’s, The Phoenix on Westheimer, Phoenicia Specialty Foods/MKT Bar, Cherry Block Craft Butcher + Kitchen and Alvin Schultz’s Mind Body Fuel.

Hospitality and food service workers whose employment has been affected by coronavirus-related restrictions can visit the Houston Shift Meal FaceBook page, search the Events tab for upcoming opportunities to receive free meals, and then register. Registration does not guarantee a free meal, since these are first-come, first-served, but it does give the restaurant an idea of how many meals to make. Individuals receiving meals should be prepared to show a recent pay stub, an employee badge or other proof of employment when picking up their free meal. However, enforcement is at the discretion of the participating restaurants.

Individuals, organizations or businesses that are interested in a $250 sponsorship package can fill out this form. Basically, for the price of a couple of nice meals out, sponsors can provide 50 to 75 meals to hospitality professionals who are suffering during this crisis. If you are an individual donor who can’t afford to give $250 but would still like to help, Houston Shift Meal has partnered with The Texas Wine School, a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, to collect funds with 100% going directly to restaurants. To donate, visit this online form. Donors who wish to make an in-kind contribution of ingredients or other supplies for restaurants can use the same form.

Food for hospitality professionals. Courtesy photo.

This is an ongoing crisis that serves up new challenges daily. As happened during Harvey, a number of ad hoc restaurant/bar industry efforts have popped up to meet these challenges and help these professionals. Other efforts include Pour Neighbors, a private FaceBook group administered by bartender Racheal Buie, which is connecting unemployed hospitality professionals with restaurants offering them free or discounted meals and restaurants and bars starting GoFundMe campaigns and setting up virtual Venmo tip jars.

Despite the challenges, one thing that doesn’t change is the bar and restaurant professionals’ commitment to our community and to each other. During this unprecedented crisis, these professionals who have been there for us now need us to be there for them. If you can, please help Houston Shift Meal and please help your neighborhood favorites by ordering takeout or delivery.

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