Restaurants are currently limited to delivery, to-go and drive-through pickup to help lower the risk of exposure to the upper-respiratory disease caused by the new strain of coronavirus.
Because of this, many hospitality workers now have reduced hours or have been furloughed or laid off.
Now, instead of those workers serving others, the hospitality industry is finding ways to serve them.
Houston Shift Meal is a group headed by Jonathan Beitler, who is in public relations and event planning, and Cat Nguyen, who is a Houston sommelier, that provides free meals to hospitality workers who have been affected by the social distancing restrictions enacted by the City of Houston and Harris County.
“For me the industry is very closely tied to what I do, and I have many friends that right now are struggling,” Beitler said. “This is our family and we just want to allow for them one less thing to worry about.”
The name is taken from a shift meal, sometimes called a family meal, in which a restaurant provides a meal that is shared by the staff.
Beitler and Nguyen also worked together in 2017 after Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston. During that time, they launched Midtown Kitchen Collective, which with the help of restaurants provided free meals to those in need.
“We thought it was only natural the two of us could come together and give back in an opposite way,” Beitler said.
With more than 200,000 distributions under their belt with Midtown Kitchen Collective, coming together a second time under Houston Shift Meal just two weeks ago was easy because the duo already had many of the logistics worked out.
“(Houston Shift Meal is) organized by people who have a good blueprint for how to get meals to people in times of crisis,” Rainbow Lodge owner Donnette Hansen said.
Rainbow Lodge, 2011 Ella Blvd., is a restaurant partner with Houston Shift Meal.
Hansen said it made sense to work together as the program has the capability to get food to hospitality workers and Rainbow Lodge has the capability to make food.
How Houston Shift Meal works is through monetary donations and the help of still-operating restaurants. For example, from the donations, Houston Shift Meal will give a restaurant a $250 stipend, which according to HoustonMealShift.com will produce between 50-75 meals. The restaurants will then produce the meals.
The last meal that Rainbow Lodge provided was wild game Bolognese with a seasonal squash salad.
To give more options and reduce the amount of people who have to leave their home, Beitler said the group has set up two pickup sites per week where hospitality workers can pick up four meals at once.
For information on when and where the pickup sites are, visit Houston Shift Meal’s Facebook page @HoustonShiftMeal.
“We’ll do this as long as this takes,” Hansen said.
While working with Houston Shift Meal, Hansen said Rainbow Lodge has also been providing shift meals for its staff that is currently working and staff that’s been furloughed. The workers are able to come in and grab a meal for themselves and their family if need be.
“From a cook at McDonald’s to a server at the nicest restaurants in the city,” Beitler said, “they’re a lot of workers in the industry and we are wanting to serve all of them.”