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KCUR's Gina Kaufmann brings you personal essays about how we're all adapting to a very different world.

These Kansas City Restaurants Are Feeding The Hungry As Their Industry Takes A Hit

Black Sheep + Market
Black Sheep + Market is churning out grilled cheese and tomato soup lunches for hungry Kansas Citians.

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Restaurants throughout the metro have been hit hard by the state of emergency in Kansas City. Many have closed, resulting in hundreds of laid off workers. And now, with food service limited to curbside and delivery, waitstaff is losing both hourly wages and tips. Meanwhile, restaurants themselves are facing an existential threat that increases every day the coronavirus epidemic continues. 

Still, some restaurants are doing what they can to help those who need it.

"This is a day by day fight, no more, no less," says Beth Barden of Succotash, a popular brunch nook that's adapted to serve nearby hospital workers. "This has the opportunity to make us all closer, better, stronger. It also has the ability to kill us. It is a delicate balance."

"If we are in a position to help, then I think it is our responsibility to do so," says Michael Foust of Black Sheep + Market. "With that being said, I worry every day, every moment about my family."

Foust says his setup for food handling and sanitation is elaborate, but he adds, "I don't think you can be too careful right now." When community partners drop off food donations, he says he wants to give them "the biggest hug in the world." Instead, he maintains six feet of distance and expresses his gratitude with a wave.
Here are some of the Kansas City restaurants that have transformed their business models to focus on community support.

  • Waldo Thai — Chef/owner Pam Liberda is maintaining curbside and delivery options for the general public while setting aside thirty free lunches a day for displaced restaurant workers who now find themselves hungry. According to a recent Facebook post, lots of folks are holding back out of concern they might be taking a meal from someone else who needs it more. "Let us make this clear," the post reads. "If you work in the service industry, and you are hungry, come, grab a meal. We say 30, but if you know Pam, we normally give out 50. So if you are hungry, come."
  • The Rieger — The Rieger has replaced its traditional dining room service with Crossroads Community Kitchen, serving carryout meals from outside the restaurant door from 4-6 p.m. on a pay-what-you-can basis. Food pickups can scheduled by appointment for large orders at other times (these have been sought by organizations such as daycares and homeless shelters). Appointments can be requested by calling the Rieger's phone number; staff is attempting to answer those calls around the clock. Ingredients and other supplies are being donated by community partners. All proceeds from paid meals go directly to a fund for hourly restaurant staff.
  • Black Sheep + Market— Michael Foust of Black Sheep has replaced traditional dine-in service with curbside boxed lunches consisting of grilled cheese, tomato soup, microgreens and a cookie. Any payment is strictly voluntary. Customers who are able to pay can also pay for others. The restaurant is also serving a nightly dinner special that varies depending on ingredient donations from farms such as City Bitty Farm and Taveronna, and bakeries such as Bloom Bakery. A makeshift carryout window with a six-foot separation between staff and customers has been set up for meal pickup. Delivery is available up to a five-mile radius. 
  • Succotash— Chef Beth Barden is providing free meals and fresh fruit juice to hospital workers using funds raised by a pay-it-forward option, allowing patrons to purchase $10 certificates online to help feed staff at Truman Hospital and Children's Mercy, both located near her restaurant. Individual donations will soon fund Easter meals for families without provisions. Anyone facing food insecurity can reach out directly to the restaurant about Easter dinners. Barden says she will accommodate as many families as she can. 
  • Jack Stack Barbecue — This Kansas City barbecue establishment is providing meals for hospital workers and other medical staff throughout the metro, with the cost of the meals covered by online fundraising efforts initiated by individual benefactors Trey McDonald  and B.J. Kissel. Meals are provided as the funds come in. 
  • Rotating lunches by Open Belly Podcast  — Kansas City food podcaster Danielle Lehman started partnering with the national food delivery app ChowNow to bring free lunches to displaced food industry workers at different restaurants every week. Meals are distributed in bags by servers wearing masks and gloves. The first event, held earlier this week, fed 150 people. Displaced workers are asked to show a recent pay stub or liquor license. Lehman hopes to expand the series to include two events per week. Updates, times and locations can be found on theOpen Belly Instagram account.

Gina Kaufmann is the host of KCUR's Central Standard. She can be reached on Twitter, @GinaKCUR.

People don't make cameos in news stories; the human story is the story, with characters affected by news events, not defined by them. As a columnist and podcaster, I want to acknowledge what it feels like to live through this time in Kansas City, one vantage point at a time. Together, these weekly vignettes form a collage of daily life in Kansas City as it changes in some ways, and stubbornly resists change in others. You can follow me on Twitter @GinaKCUR or email me at gina@kcur.org.
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