An All-Star Team Is Helping Newark Restaurants Feed Their City
(Bloomberg) -- Throughout the pandemic, restaurants in and around New York have relied on support from major corporations to reopen and reemploy staff while feeding emergency workers and people in need.
Chef Daniel Boulud started Food1st with a $1 million donation from SL Green Realty Corp. to offer meals to first responders. Danny Meyer, chief executive officer of Union Square Hospitality Group, activated three of his kitchens—with help from a $1 million investment from Brookfield Properties—to emphasize feeding people in the South Bronx.
But there’s another successful program that’s received less visibility, and it’s in Newark, N.J. Since April, Newark Working Kitchens has activated 25 local restaurants, the majority of which are Black- or women-owned. In 17 weeks it’s prepared more than 310,000 meals for vulnerable residents.
Audible Inc., the audiobook maker headquartered in Newark and owned by Amazon.com Inc., is the major corporate sponsor, so far investing $2 million.
Newark Working Kitchens began as a collaboration among star chef Marcus Samuelsson, Audible, and World Central Kitchen—chef José Andrés’s international emergency food relief program. At the start of the pandemic, Samuelsson joined with WCK in Harlem to serve free meals to locals from his restaurant Red Rooster.
He saw an opportunity to expand the effort to Newark, where he operates Marcus B&P. “It’s a moment when you have to use your relationships to drive traffic. I thought, Who do I have in my phone book? I called [Audible founder] Don Katz, I called Michael B. Jordan. And I called some cooks and dishwashers,” Samuelsson says.
Jordan’s father worked at a food bank in Newark, and his family ran a small catering company there. “Having grown up in Newark, I know its incredible strength and resilience firsthand,” the Creed star wrote in an email. “I was proud to answer the call from Marcus to support the work of Newark Working Kitchens by donating meals to those in need while at this same time empowering local restaurants and businesses.” He donated an undisclosed sum at the start of the project, which secured meals for the first few weeks.
Other supporters of Newark Working Kitchens include Twitter Inc. CEO Jack Dorsey’s Start Small program and Rihanna’s Clara Lionel Foundation, which has funded 150,000 meals for local residents. The collaboration is part of a $15 million coronavirus relief campaign that began after CLF spotlighted Newark as one of the cities that’s been hit hardest by Covid-19. TD Bank NA and Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. are among the corporate sponsors for NWK, which pays restaurants about $10 for each meal they prepare.
Newark restaurant owner Kai Campbell had been planning to shutter his Burger Walla spot when he got a call from Audible and started working with NWK at the end of April. “I had let the landlord know we were closing the doors,” he says. “I had zero revenue during the pandemic and didn’t qualify for unemployment.”
Campbell, who worked on economic development for Cory Booker when he was mayor of Newark more than a decade ago, rehired seven employees—about one-third of his staff—and began preparing up to 400 meals a day for locals as well as emergency workers at Newark’s University Hospital.
Food ranged from chana masala (Indian chickpea stew) to fried chicken biscuit sandwiches, a dish Campbell is planning to serve at his Newark restaurant, the Yard, which is scheduled to reopen at the end of August. (The Walla remains closed to the public.)
Audible’s Katz has pledged to keep supporting the city’s small businesses. A spokesperson for the company says it’s secured an additional $4 million to cover meals for NWK through the fall, but the goal is to keep the charity operating indefinitely. “There are thousands of little food business in Newark,” says Katz. “Literally thousands. The taco makers, the bodega owners who are disenfranchised from programs like PPP [Paycheck Protection Program], and from private liquidity.”
His company has a history of supporting the community since it set up headquarters in 2007. Audible provides employees a monthly $500 housing subsidy to live in Newark; a “Lunch Out Wednesday” program offers them gift cards to support local restaurants.
Newark restaurants still face challenges beyond the coronavirus restrictions imposed by local governments. Downtown, one of the city’s major dining destinations, is heavily dependent on students from nearby schools such as Rutgers University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, and Seton Hall Law School. Most of them are holding classes remotely.
“Those people aren’t coming back anytime soon,” says Campbell, whose Walla restaurant is located in that neighborhood. “Reopening is a serious gamble. I absolutely hope Newark Working Kitchens keeps going.”
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