Staplehouse Becomes a Soup Kitchen to Help Support Atlanta’s Restaurant Workforce

COVID-19, Restaurant Industry News,

Source: Eater

Restaurants around metro Atlanta have become takeout and delivery joints overnight, laid off or furloughed hundreds of employees, and must now navigate through the quagmire of small business and emergency loan applications as financial stopgap measures.

But restaurants aren’t letting unused food go to waste, even as COVID-19 forces the closure of dining rooms across Atlanta.

While some food is currently feeding people ordering from newly commissioned takeout menus, the rest has become donations to local charities, gone to feed school children and the homeless, or been provided to those who now find themselves unemployed in the restaurant industry.

Staplehouse joined forces with Giving Kitchen to launch “The Giving Soup Kitchen” at the tasting menu restaurant on Edgewood Avenue. It’s meant to provide meals (at no cost) to out-of-work service industry people caught in the wake of abrupt layoffs.

The makeshift soup kitchen serves one other purpose — it keeps Staplehouse staff employed.

“As our mission hasn’t changed, our support needs have. Where we no longer need diners, we need donors,” a Saturday post reads on Facebook. “...we are asking our fellow restaurants who have also made the tough decision to close your doors to please donate any excess inventory.”

The post lists a Venmo account where people can donate money to the restaurant’s employees, along with an email address to contact chef and owner Ryan Smith to provide containers and paper products for packaging meals.

Chef Ryan Smith in the garden at Staplehouse.
Chef Ryan Smith in the garden at Staplehouse
 Andrew Thomas Lee

“When we closed this week, takeout and delivery just wasn’t singing to us. Our number one concern is the well-being of our employees,” Smith tells Eater Atlanta. “With all of the other things contributing to their stress and anxiety, if we can take the financial burden off of our employees’ plates, that is the least we can do for them, right now.”

Smith says clarity on a solution came from Giving Kitchen executive director Bryan Schroeder, who told him not to think of Staplehouse as a restaurant, but as a fundraiser.

“What do people need right now? Food. What do restaurants have that they can’t use now. Food,” Smith explains of the impetus behind the Giving Soup Kitchen.

Smith and co-owner Kara Hidinger Smith are still working out the logistics, including the schedule going forward. For now, the couple are taking it day by day and sticking to 50 meals. They hope to eventually provide as many as 100 meals a day, seven days a week, if the need arises within the restaurant community.

The Smiths plan to apply for an SBA Economic Injury Disaster loan as a way to hopefully continue paying employees (they have yet to lay anyone off,) and for funding to reopen the restaurant to the public down the road.

Efforts like this are taking place throughout metro Atlanta, as restaurants wrangle resources to donate or prepare food so it doesn’t go to waste.

Aziza and its sister restaurants, Falafel NationRina, and Bellina Alimentari, shared all unused food with employees. Bully Boy chef Matt Weinstein announced Friday that Royal Food Service was donating 250 cases of fresh vegetables to unemployed service workers. Socks’ Love Barbecue in Forsyth County is sharing its food with people in need. Michael Lennox, the owner of Golden Eagle and Muchacho, started an online community called the #ATLFamilyMeal as a way to offer support to the hospitality industry. Highland Bakery is working with local company Goodr to distribute non-expired food to individuals in the city. Shared commercial kitchen PREP Atlanta is offering prepared meals and food to-go. And, Kirkwood’s Sun in My Belly created a general store, offering everything from sweet potatoes and eggs, to honey and bags of quinoa.

Red Pepper Taqueria has three area locations, one being in Brookhaven, north of the city of Atlanta. After Brookhaven mandated its restaurants suspend dine-in service, owner and chef Mimmo Alboumeh decided it didn’t make sense to keep that particular location open during the mandatory shutdown.

“Most of my employees use public transportation, and we decided that [if] the city says it’s not safe to stay open, then it wasn’t safe for them to keep coming in,” he says. It was a difficult decision, especially with 160 employees between three locations.

In addition to feeding his staff, he is working with Daniel Troppy, a local photographer who co-founded the homeless advocacy organization “Yes In My Backyard” (YIMBY). Together, he and Alboumeh plan to deliver 150 meals to Lost-N-Found Youth, an Atlanta shelter for young people in the LGBTQ community.

“We are so blessed,” Alboumeh says, “So, we share the blessing with the community that has always been there for us.” Right now, they’re scheduling nearly four deliveries per day to other area homeless shelters, and prepared for the endeavor by renting a van and stocking up on gloves and hand sanitizer.

Chef Jamie Adams temporarily closed Lagarde in Chamblee and combined its menu with sister restaurant il Giallo in Sandy Springs. Adams is prepared to donate food if they decide to close il Giallo, too.

“As many proceeds as humanly possible are going to our staff,” he says. “[Any] leftover food and potentially bulk items will be donated to the Atlanta Community Food Bank (ACFB).”

According to the ACFB website, donations continue to be welcomed from restaurants, as long as products are shelf-stable and not expired.

True Story Brands owner, Justin Anthony (Biltong Bar10 Degrees South), is in the process of sorting product from his restaurants for the ACFB. After Ponce City Market closed on March 17 to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, staff at the PCM location of Biltong Bar (as well as other workers in PCM) were encouraged to take home produce and perishables from the restaurant.

“The most important thing is my staff. Most of them live paycheck to paycheck,” he says. For Anthony, donating the remaining food is the one bright spot in an otherwise bleak situation.

Calling the COVID-19 outbreak in Atlanta a “trying time” for restaurants and bars is an understatement, but Alboumeh believes there is still good to be found in the current situation, “Sometimes when you think of something good you just do it…and good comes back to you.”