The week before the schools closed to slow the spread of COVID-19, food and drink events began to cancel and postpone. Next, food hubs went from full service to socially distanced, spacing out tables, then offering food to go only.
Our March 16 story on Central Coast Distillery in Atascadero had already been sent to the printers when we found out not a single person could walk into chef Eric Olson's new hangout. Days later, Olson was serving delicious to-go meals like so many other food hubs—and his bag of hot food included a complimentary, handmade bottle of hand sanitizer he made in his distillery.
Other distilleries—including Calwise Spirits and Krobar Craft Distillery—have also adapted their operations to begin making sanitizers for school districts, public places, and first responders.
The food service industry, hit hard by the state and local shelter-at-home mandates, makes up a big part of the local and statewide economy. In California, restaurant and food service jobs make up 11 percent of employment, according to the National Restaurant Association, which found that every dollar spent in the table-service segment contributes $2.03 to the state economy.
But amid the pandemic's inevitable effects on our economic forecast, innovation and altruism are keeping Central Coast spirits high and mouths fed.
SLO Cider officially opened its tasting room on March 13 only to temporarily close on March 15. Though it can't take in-person business, SLO Cider is donating 50 percent of its proceeds from an early week of online sales to the SLO County Food Bank.
"With the schools being shut down and workers being let go, a lot of our neighbors will be relying on the services the food bank provides," said Nate Adamski, operation manager at SLO Cider. "We want to help the food bank receive what's necessary to keep their staff safe."
The SLO Food Bank is currently working with the school districts and other partner agencies to ensure continuity of service and to set up additional food distributions. Volunteers and donations are still needed.
Meanwhile, school districts continue to serve free breakfast and lunch to families. At Templeton Unified School District's recent board meeting, food service leadership said they were grappling with the increase in service of their usual number of free and reduced-cost meals—it's doubled and continues increasing as the days go by.
- Photo Courtesy Of The Galley
- STAFF MEALS FOR HIS UNEMPLOYED The Galley owner David Peter is focused on feeding the 40 restaurant staffers he had to lay off during the COVID-19 crisis. Ordering items like the shredded chicken, sweet potato, and chickpea Buddha Bowl (pictured) from his grab-and-go menu can ensure a continued supply of free meals for his unemployed restaurant staff.
On the restaurant side of things, The Galley Seafood Grill & Bar is one of the hundreds of eateries adapting to the COVID-19 crisis by moving out of the dining room and into the new takeout experience. The Galley Grab 'n' Go, the new to-go dinner menu was inspired by Galley chef Graham Yates in response to the restaurant's temporary closure.
"We knew we needed to respond quickly to the COVID-19 crisis and figure out what we could do best to support our team and our loyal customer base, many of whom are 60 years and older and confined during this situation," said The Galley's owner, David Peter. "Also, in moving to takeout, sustainability is super important to us, so we're using recyclable take-out containers suitable for the microwave, and our salads are packed in containers made out of recycled beverage bottles."
Keeping some of his staff employed is what is driving Peter, but he did have to lay off most of the restaurant's longtime hourly staff—nearly 40 employees. During the restaurant's temporary closure, Peter said that The Galley's grab-and-go purchases will ensure that The Galley employees who have been temporarily laid off will be provided meals at no charge.
"We're a fine dining restaurant ... and our staff are like our family," Peter said. "Laying them off was one of the hardest things we've ever had to do. We want to stay connected and help them during this unsettling time, and then get back to work as soon as possible."
Other to-go specials are popping up throughout the county. The folks behind Ike's Love & Sandwiches have seen grocery stores running low on essential food items, such as bread, so the shop is selling its Dutch crunch rolls, six for $4.99. Ike's is also releasing special "social distancing sandwiches" every Friday for $5 when you purchase one at a regular price.
Locally run grocery stores have reduced their hours to keep their staff healthy, including SLO Food Co-op (temporary hours now 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.). The Co-op, like many other grocery stores in the area, reserved the first hour (10 to 11 a.m.) to serve seniors and immunocompromised shoppers.
- Photo Courtesy Of SLO Provisions
- EASY EASTER MENU SLO Provisions is offering a customizable Easter menu for pick-up or delivery. Since gatherings might be smaller this year due to current circumstances, SLO Provisions is offering many of its menu selections in two sizes.
Many of the local places are finding ways to make some income, while also making donations to the cause. Willow Family Restaurants—Willow Market and Restaurant in Nipomo, Willow Kitchen and Cocktails in Pismo, and the new Port House Restaurant in Morro Bay—are preparing Easter meals large enough to feed six to eight people. Each dinner comes with a glazed ham, multiple sides, and a dessert for $99 (with wine options). For every meal purchased, Joe White of Willow Family Restaurants will donate the same meal for a family currently affected by unemployment.
SLO Provisions is preparing an Easter dinner menu for pickup or delivery. Everything is offered a la carte, so the customer may select as few or as many items they desire, with the items offered in small or large sizes, due to gatherings likely being smaller this year.
Novo Restaurant and Lounge and The Hatch Rotisserie and Bar in Paso Robles have teamed up to launch a crowd-sourced fundraiser to provide hot, delicious meals to health care workers in SLO County, with a goal to add to the list of participating restaurants so the revenue from the fundraiser can be spread out among locally owned businesses. Donations will go directly to local restaurants who will prepare and deliver meals to hospitals, doctors, offices, clinics, and other health care centers around the county. Each $20 donation feeds one health care worker in SLO County.
Plus, Novo now offers groceries in addition to its to-go meals.
San Paso Truck Stop and its partner Melton Technologies Inc. have been providing free breakfasts to all truckers since March 25 as a thanks for keeping the supply chain going.
Tenacious wineries are offering wine delivery, curbside-pick up, and virtual wine tastings. Austin Hope and his team at Hope Family Wines appointed a wine advisor to host private tastings on Zoom.
More than 40 local wineries have donated cases of wine to the ER staff of SLO County hospitals.
Laurie Kelsey of Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards, initiated the drop-off cases of wine and personal thank-you notes, Kelsey was flooded with emails after writing to her colleagues: "We all know how nice it is at the end of the day to relax with a glass of wine, and I believe this would be a wonderful way for these dedicated workers to end their long, exhausting workdays." Δ
Flavor writer Beth Giuffre is raising a glass to all the health care, food service, and delivery workers! Send COVID-19 cuisine ideas to email@example.com.