To say the last four weeks have been unprecedented would be the understatement of the century. For so many of us that work in the hospitality industry here in Newport, trying to navigate this new reality has been a difficult adjustment. Trying to budget accordingly based on unemployment compensation, finding productive/healthy ways to use all this newfound downtime and adapting this new lifestyle have placed thousands of local residents into a situation that is overwhelmingly unfamiliar.
Let’s be honest, we are all hurting. Any business, regardless of industry, is feeling the effects of this international pandemic. It has been a trying time for everyone and this article is not meant to disregard the struggles of others or make light of those in similar circumstances. However, because I am directly affiliated with three restaurants in town and have been a member of the hospitality industry for close to twelve years, I felt it appropriate that I write this article to bring forth some of the wonderful things that I’ve observed in the restaurant scene since the start of this crisis.
With more time being dedicated to screen usage than ever (whether it be a phone, television or computer), we constantly find ourselves engaged in a realm of negativity. Although the circumstances surrounding us are dire and should not be ignored, it’s always nice to see something uplifting and encouraging. Even through this period of darkness, it’s easy to find bright spots if you take the time to notice. Now more than ever is a time to grow together, even if we are required to stay apart.
The late Mister Rogers, a family program that I grew up watching, once said “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping’.” These words could not be more fitting for a time like this and when I sat down to write this piece, my intentions were to share the stories of our own helpers here in Newport.
As we enter week four of this quarantine period, I wanted to take some time to highlight some local residents and businesses that are going above and beyond to help their own in this time of need. So many members of our community have stepped up and helped out in so many different ways; from providing complimentary meals to members and family of hospitality professionals to cooking for hospital employees and first responders, there are so many stories of selflessness that are showing us all the true meaning of hospitality and community.
Restaurants such as Stoneacre Brasserie and The Reef have been offering free meals on a weekly basis to members of the hospitality industry effected by the Covid-19 crisis. Stoneacre’s service is offered every Wednesday and Saturday on a first come, first serve basis and is available through curbside pickup or delivery. Twice each week, their team prepares enough provisions to serve between 150-200 people within the local restaurant community. Through the generosity of their friends, farmers and anonymous donors, Stoneacre has been able to keep this program going and will continue to offer delicious meals on a bi-weekly basis.
“It’s gone beyond just restaurants and hospitality,” says David Crowell, one of the owners and proprietors of the restaurant and Stoneacre Wine & Spirits. “We have an opportunity to help those in our own community and saw a chance to do something right. It’s about the big picture for us and being able to give back to an industry that’s given us so much is humbling.”
Crowell and his business partner Christopher Bender say that none of this would be possible without the continued dedication of their staff, who have volunteered their own time to feed others. “It takes a family effort to provide a family meal.”
The Reef is also offering complimentary meals to hospitality employees with their ‘Family Meal Friday’ program. Their menu is posted online every Friday morning and those wanting to participate are encouraged to call or email their order between 9am-2pm. Contactless pick-up is then available from 4-8p at The Reef of they will deliver to anyone unable to make it down to the restaurant located on Howard Wharf. Not to mention that The Reef’s new General Manager, Luke Devine, is most likely going to be the one serving you your meal and who doesn’t smile when they see that gentle giant!
Other restaurants like Winner Winner and Flat Waves are encouraging customers to help out families in need with their own ‘pay it forward’ meal programs. Winner Winner, located at 677 Thames Street has added the “Bucket of Love” to their menu for $25. In partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Newport County, this menu item is an exclusive offer created to aid those who are less fortunate. With each purchase of a “Bucket of Love,” the team at the popular Fifth Ward chicken shop provides dinner for four to a family in need. Steve Yerger, co-owner of Winner Winner and good friend of mine, says that by Sunday night the business will have sold close to 500 “Buckets of Love” meaning that over 500 meals have been provided to families in need throughout the local community since the inception of this deal.
Flat Waves, located at 1130 Aquidneck Avenue, is also providing an opportunity for their customers to donate dinner to local families during the COVID-19 crisis. For $25, you can provide a family of four with shoyu chicken, kalua pulled pork, rice, four side salads and their “Almost Famous” sauces. Along with their donation program, Flat Waves is also offering free meals for school aged kids each day from 11am-2pm.
Will Burgess, the owner of Flat Waves whose wife is an elementary school teacher, felt that it was important to pay it forward and offer this option to local students as a small way to express their gratitude for the continued support of Flat Waves through this trying time.
Along with feeding the community, other businesses have chosen to find creative ways to help their own staff members who are currently out of work. The Nitro Bar, one of Newport’s most welcomed additions in 2019, decided that in order to help offset a severe dip in their staff’s hours, they would incentivize gift card sales. Located at 2 Pond Avenue, the new small business has flourished with support from the local community and they have carved their place in the daily lives of so many here in Newport. For any gift card purchased, 30% of all gift card sales will go directly to their incredible team of cooks and baristas. Although they are closed for the next two weeks, gift cards are still available for purchase online!
Larger businesses, such as Newport Restaurant Group, have also implemented a similar avenue of relief for their employees. On Wednesday, the company announced that they would be donating 100% of all gift cards purchased to their own employee relief fund. The employee owned company who has a portfolio of restaurants across Rhode Island and Massachusetts, including Castle Hill Inn, The Mooring, Smokehouse, The Boathouse, 22 Bowen’s and Bar Cino here in Newport County was able to reach their goal of raising $100,000 in gift card sales in a single day. A feat that is simply amazing to consider.
There are countless others who have played a part in contributing towards a greater good during this crisis. WhatsUpNewp has established a ‘Newport County Virtual Tip Jar’ where employees who have been laid off can provide their VenMo and PayPal information on a spreadsheet in case guests and regulars would like to place a donation. Musicians who play around town have participated in virtual concerts to raise money for local hospitality professionals. Just today, John Erickson played on Facebook LIVE to benefit and highlight employees of The Pub at 2 Mile Corner. Thank you John!
Another thing to mention is the amount of work going on behind the scenes. For example, I know of a group of local restaurant managers and chefs (who have asked to remain anonymous) that have joined together to provide the hardworking staff at Newport hospital complimentary meals every Monday through Friday. Each day, they rotate the responsibility of prepping and cooking food for those medical professionals who are working tirelessly during this pandemic. Although this situation has been so difficult in so many ways, it has been beautiful to watch the random acts of kindness that have come from it.
I love Newport with all of my heart. This city may be known for it’s rich history and beautiful coastline but it’s the people and that community that truly make it such a special place. It’s been extremely difficult watching friends and peers who are currently unemployed struggle during this time. It’s been hard to watch local businesses close down, not knowing if they’ll ever have the opportunity to re-open when this is all said and done.
Perhaps the hardest part of it all is not knowing; not knowing when you’ll be able to get back to work. Not knowing when you’ll be able to see your family and friends. Not knowing when you’ll be truly safe again. Not knowing when this will finally be over.
One thing that I do know is that I have never been more proud to call this place home.
If you are able to help any of these causes, please consider doing so. I know everyone’s efforts, whether it be ordering take out or delivery, purchasing gift cards and finding other ways to help the restaurants and employees you’ve come to love, have not gone unnoticed. On behalf of the hospitality industry, THANK YOU for your continued support, we can’t wait to welcome you back with open arms!