Table for None is a series on how the COVID-19 outbreak continues to impact local restaurants. For more on the spread of the novel coronavirus in Northern Virginia, please subscribe to our newsletters.
In the era of the global pandemic, fine dining as we know it is on hold. Tasting menus, characterized by their escalating quality and surprising ingredients have been replaced by family-style to-go meals on most menus, and the atmosphere of elevated dining rooms are now empty.
In Falls Church, 2941 Restaurant is no exception. The dining room is closed, and executive chef Bertrand Chemel has transformed the restaurant’s kitchen to limit its offerings to easy-to-prepare meals. Plus, he has partnered with Food for Others, a nonprofit just 2 miles down the road that has been feeding the community throughout the pandemic.
Now, Chemel has offered to work out discounted or well-priced bulk items such as pasta, rice, produce and meat from the restaurant’s suppliers, and break down the bulk orders into family-sized bags that can then be delivered to Food for Others every day, and distributed to the surrounding community. The nonprofit pays the restaurant back for the cost of food and labor, and since starting the partnership, Chemel has brought back 20 part-time staff to assist in the efforts.
We caught up with Chemel about his experience with the pandemic and how he is staying hopeful at this time. Highlights from our conversation are below.
When you started to get news of the outbreak, what were your next steps and how did you react?
I was very concerned. I have family in France, so I was getting updates about how fast the virus was spreading a month before the virus made its way to the United States. At the restaurant, we started by reviewing health and safety guidelines provided by our local health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We did a deep clean of our restaurant, and quarantined anyone who recently traveled, or who had cold-like symptoms. No one has been allowed in the kitchen without a doctor’s note or a two-week quarantine. My goal is to keep both our employees and local customers safe.
What was closing the restaurant like for you and how have you been since?
I have been at 2941 for 12 years, so the staff here is like family. It broke my heart to let go of 100 hardworking individuals, many of whom I have been working alongside for more than a decade. It was very emotional to lose everything, essentially overnight.
Earlier this month, I reached out to Food for Others, a Northern Virginia-based nonprofit, who was seeking food donations to help keep up with the growing number of working individuals currently affected by this crisis. I contacted my purveyors to see if they could help me with donation or supply me with low-cost items. My kitchen turned into a warehouse housing a hundred pounds of dry goods. Our walk-in refrigerator was also emptied to store cases of vegetables.
We started by preparing 200 meal kits each day, and we are now donating 400 meal delivery kits that include rice, pasta, oranges, potatoes, apples, canned soup and canned fruit, as well as chicken thighs and beef patties.
How was the transition from carefully curated plates to delivery and takeaway meals?
After the mandatory restaurant shutdown, we had to react quickly. I created a delicious menu that would be easy for our limited staff to execute. My hope was to make enough revenue to cover some of our rent, and wages for those employees still with the company.
What do you miss most about the restaurant’s dining room being open?
The excitement of being in the kitchen and working with my team to create new, exciting spring dishes for our guests.
What keeps you hopeful at this time?
I believe our country will overcome this outbreak. We have amazing medical professionals working very hard to keep our community safe.
The restaurant industry will suffer greatly, however, we have no choice but to try to move forward. I believe by helping our community during this trying time, our loyal customers will pay it forward when the government says it safe for restaurants to reopen.
What do you want to say to local supporters?
Buy local. Support our industry now and come dine with us when the government says it safe for restaurants to reopen. Dining out will likely be different for a while, but our quality of work and dedication will remain the same.
What are you looking forward to most in the future, after COVID-19 and hopefully when the restaurant reopens?
Welcoming our guests and staff with open arms. The world has been shaken, but humanity will overcome this hardship.
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