The coronavirus pandemic forced restaurants to stop on-site dining, shut down school meal programs, emptied grocery store shelves and generally disrupted how people sustain themselves. These four charity-minded chefs are stepping up to help the people most impacted by these drastic changes and ensure they continue to be fed.
Jonathan Krinn, Chef-Owner of Clarity, Vienna
When Krinn realized in-restaurant dining would be shut down by authorities, he knew he was going to have to pivot away from the fine dining format that has won him and Clarity a slew of awards since it opened five years ago. Prior to becoming a chef, he did project management and marketing for consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, so he drew on those skills to come up with a new business model to keep the lights on and his whole staff employed. Overnight, elegantly composed tasting menus were out, comforting takeout fare was in. Initial offerings included focaccia pizzas, Vietnamese pho and barbecue.
“These are things I love to make, but don’t usually get to make at Clarity,” says Krinn. They haven’t totally forgotten their high-end roots: one option was black-truffle-stuffed pupusas. Along with the business pivot, Krinn decided any first responder would eat for free “until the world resets.” Since making that announcement online, he has been flooded with emails, mostly from family and friends of those on the front lines of the pandemic.
“Doctors or nurses are not going to reach out to me, because that’s the kind of people they are and why they started doing what they’re doing,” Krinn says. As of this writing, he has given away more than 200 meals. As if that wasn’t enough, Krinn is dropping off focaccia pizzas at local hospitals, doctor’s offices and firehouses as gestures of gratitude. // 442 Maple Ave. E., Vienna
John Wood, Owner of 29 Diner, Fairfax
John Wood already has a lot of charitable missions, doing work on suicide prevention, anti-bullying and veteran’s assistance campaigns. But his decision to turn his venerable diner into a veritable soup kitchen to help some of Fairfax’s most vulnerable during the pandemic might be his biggest undertaking yet. “We are going into survivor mode to take care of our community,” says Wood, who is keeping all of his employees on the payroll, though they took a temporary pay cut. Normally, needy students are fed through school meal programs, but some of those ended when schools closed.
To fill the void, Wood is offering a hot meal to any child who comes in (as of this writing, over 2,000 were given out). Additionally, they can walk out with a snack pack full of granola bars, juice packs and crackers to help keep them and their family satiated throughout the day.
Concurrently, he and his team are dropping off free meals to first responders and delivering free household goods and food to up to a dozen at-risk families a day. Powering Wood’s efforts are donations from the community, which chipped in more than $18,000 dollars in the first 11 days and are helping fill a school bus parked in front of the diner with nonperishable foods, toilet paper and cleaning supplies. // 10536 Fairfax Blvd., Fairfax
Jason “Red” Banks, Chef-Owner Red’s BBQ & Pizzeria, Leesburg
When Virginia schools closed due to the pandemic, it made Banks think: What was going to happen to the underprivileged children who relied on their meal programs? He knew there would be families in need at his son’s school, Discovery Elementary in Ashburn. So, he stepped up to help out with his two passions: barbecue and pizza. Banks, who goes by Red because of his fiery hair, works at the State Department by day, but has a catering company side hustle. The next Saturday, Red was in the school’s parking lot with Red Force One, his epic mobile kitchen and entertainment center decked out with a smoker, pizza oven, deep fryer, satellite televisions and SiriusXM radio.
Anyone who needed a meal could eat for free, as could anyone who stopped in to make a donation to power future meal giveaways. His goal was to hand out 100 meals. In less than two hours, he served more than 300 people with baby back ribs, brisket, Neapolitan pizzas and more. To maintain safe social distancing, diners stayed in their cars; food was delivered by volunteers.
“People were singing the songs blasting out of Red Force One, they were smiling, it was overwhelming,” Banks says. Despite the intense outlay of time and resources, the pitmaster-pizzaiolo decided to continue the events he calls Red’s BBQ Speakeasy in the parking lot of Ashburn’s Chefscape, which serves as his prep kitchen. He aims to be there giving out free meals every Saturday for three hours—or until the barbecue and pizza runs out.
David Guas, Chef-Owner of Bayou Bakery, Arlington
Bayou Bakery has a well-earned reputation for classic New Orleanian cuisine—jam-packed muffuletta sandwiches, beignets showered in powdered sugar and hearty gumbos. Now, it’s becoming known for its rice and beans, which it offers for free every weekday at lunchtime to anyone in need. The new initiative is a collaboration between chef-owner David Guas and an organization he has long supported, local nonprofit Real Food for Kids, which focuses on improving the healthfulness of school lunches and teaching nutrition to students. Everyone was worried about how underserved kids and their families were going to be able to replace meals previously provided through school programs, so Guas offered a suggestion that would also keep some of his workers employed through the downturn: a soup kitchen serving vegan beans and rice.
Guas set up a takeout tent on the restaurant’s front patio area, where it serves up 120 to 140 portions of beans (sometimes red, sometimes black) and rice every day from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The little blue tent and its employees attract a lot of attention from more than just those stopping in for a free meal.
“We get people honking or sticking their thumbs up out the window with their masks on,” Guas says. To broaden the impact of his new enterprise, he created an operational template, hoping he can share it with other chefs who are interested in helping out in a similar fashion in their own communities. // 1515 N. Courthouse Road, Arlington
This post originally appeared in our May 2020 print issue. For more food features, subscribe to our weekly newsletter.