If this pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that we are extremely fortunate to live in a community that rallies together in times of need to support one another no matter the cost.
A few weeks back, I wrote about local restaurants like Stoneacre Brasserie and The Reef that were providing free meals to restaurant workers throughout town. I wrote about how The Nitro Bar and Newport Restaurant Group were incentivizing gift card sales and giving a portion of proceeds back to their staff. The Covid-19 crisis has brought out the best in so many people and I’m honored that I have a platform that allows me to share these types of stories.
On March 16, 2020, Governor Raimondo ordered that all dine-in operations be closed immediately due to the spread of coronavirus and the concern of its presence here in Rhode Island. Although restaurants were closed, a group of local hospitality professionals comprised primarily of chefs and managers decided that this was an opportunity to give back to those who were giving so much.
The group, spearheaded by The Landing’s Frank Silvia, have been quietly providing meals for the staff at Newport Hospital. They have been delivering between 30-50 meals per day each week and have shared cooking responsibilities while working out of the Zelda’s kitchen on lower Thames Street.
Up until recently, the group had insisted that they remain anonymous. Eventually, WhatsUpNewp was granted the green light to feature these humble heroes and I am so thankful for the opportunity to feature my friends and colleagues in this article.
“I thought it was important to feature the hard work and selflessness that each and every one of these volunteers has shown over the last few months. They are dedicating their own time in appreciation of others. That’s the true meaning of hospitality,” said Silvia.
What can we do to help? That’s what first ran through Silvia’s head at the start of this crisis. How can we, as hospitality professionals, make a difference in our community and give back to the people who have given us so much? Newport Hospital and its employees immediately came to mind.
“The most impressive thing from my perspective is that when I reached out to the chefs about my idea to cook for the hospital staff, no one hesitated. They were all so enthusiastic about doing this. They jumped right into the mix and put their heart into what we were doing. All the credit goes to them,” said Silvia.
Comprised of employees from Midtown Oyster Bar, The Landing, The Lobster Bar, Zelda’s and Surf Club, the team provided meals each weekday for working healthcare professionals at Newport Hospital. Included in this group are Chef Eric King and his girlfriend and ‘Sous Chef’ Katie Taylor, Chef Jesse Borges and Chef Doug Weeden of the Lobster Bar, Chef Will Bird and Sous Chef Ray Williamson of The Landing, Chef Brian Ashness and Sous Chef Matt Tovino of Surf Club, Kim Irons who is a waitress at Surf Club and Midtown Oyster Bar and Charlie Holder, who is the Director of Operations for Surf Club and Midtown.
For those of you who know Charlie, he is also an extremely philanthropic restaurant professional. Last year, Charlie formed the Midtown Foundation. A charitable fund that benefits members of the community who are in need. He is also an annual participant in the Polar Plunge at Easton’s Beach and this past January, the Midtown Oyster Bar group that participated in the New Year’s Day swim raised close to $6,000 for A Wish Come True, a local 501c3 organization that benefits children with terminal illness.
“When you work with a group like we do and one of us sounds the horn to help, you don’t think twice about jumping in to help. One of the things I really appreciated about making the meals for the hospital staff was that it wasn’t all for the doctors and nurses, it was going to the custodians and the security staff. The people behind the scenes that may not the recognition of who is thought about when you mention hospital staff and first responders. I won’t lie, when I heard about the ovation Frankie received on the last delivery, it brought tears to my eyes.”
Along with Charlie Holder, each of the individuals that were named are employees who work for Patrick Kilroy, a local restauranteur who owns the aforementioned portfolio of establishments and gave the go-ahead for this overwhelming generous donation program.
When asked about the generosity displayed by his chefs and staff, Kilroy said “There are two types of people in the world today. People who can pull together and do what is necessary to persevere and those who can’t. I have nothing but the upmost respect for those who are putting their lives at risk each day just by showing up to do their jobs. I am so proud of my staff for pulling together to make it such a huge success and support our first responders. We are in the business of serving people, so being able to cater to those who are doing so much for our community is such a humbling thing to consider. I couldn’t be more proud of my employees to step up and make this happen and I couldn’t be more proud to say I am from Newport after watching this community rally together over the last few months.”
There have been so many members of the community that have stepped up to the plate to provide for those who are working tirelessly at the hospital. Whether it’s a box of coffee, a delivery of pastries or a drive-by appreciation parade, the love for our first responders here in Newport has been unquestionable.
Chef Eric King, who recently returned to his kitchen at Zelda’s after a major health scare, was more than happy to see his peers come together to support this initiative. “Coming back as the Chef at Zelda’s after two brain surgeries and a lung surgery only to realize that this Covid-19 situation would shut us down was absolutely devasting for me. I had spent all this time recovering, waiting to get back to work with my people and for a minute, I felt really upset and alone. That changed quickly as our restaurant family stepped up and an incredible group of chefs and managers bonded together to do some right in the world. All thanks to Frank, without him and PK none of this would have been possible. I never thought I’d ever have Chef Will, Chef Doug, Chef Brian and the big man Charlie Holder cooking in my kitchen! To support our first responders with people I respect was an experience I won’t soon forget”
Kim Irons of Midtown Oyster Bar said that cooking for the staff of Newport Hospital was honestly a breath of fresh air and something she looked forward to each week. “It’s what we are used to doing, we are used to serving others and providing for our guests. Just this time, we are taking care of those who are taking care of our city. It’s been so rewarding to give back and I’m so happy to have been a part of this. It made me feel like things were normal, even just for a few hours.”
The point of contact on the hospital’s end was long time employee and Director of Patient Experience at Newport Hospital, Pam McLaughlin. “When Frank reached out to us, I was taken aback in appreciation. I knew who Frank was from growing up in Newport and when he told me what his crew wanted to accomplish, I was blown away.” McLaughlin made sure that each department of the hospital was a recipient of the group’s generosity and spread the meals out over the week so that all employees received a meal; from janitorial to the ER nurses. “Let’s just say that Frank Silvia and his amazing crew of volunteers have made me an extremely popular woman in the hospital over the last few months.”
Each day, Silvia would coordinate with McLaughlin and back his Jeep into the loading dock of the hospital with the boxed lunches ready to be distributed to employees. The two would exchange a few pleasantries and be on their way, only to meet again the day after for the same purpose.
When asked how the meals were received by staff, McLaughlin added “The food was great but what was even better was to watch the staff have a few minutes to take their minds off of everything. When you’re working in a hospital situation, you have to be constantly focused on the task at hand. It was great to see them read the nice hand-written notes provided by the chef that cooked that day and take a few minutes to just have a sense of normalcy during their lunch break.”
Jason Holder, who works as a respiratory therapist at Newport Hospital and also runs the bar and front of house at Zelda’s has a rare perspective on this entire situation. “Obviously working on the front lines as a respiratory therapist and working directly with Covid-19 patients gives me a whole different view on things. From one side, I am wearing the hat of the hospital employee who thinks that we need to take every precaution possible and wait some time before re-opening. On the other side, I see the restaurant industry struggling each day and want places to start to open and my friends to get back to work. But what’s most important is that we open responsibly and in accordance with the guidelines outlined by the state. It’s a unique point of view to say the least.”
When asked how his colleagues at the hospital received him and the daily lunches that were provided out of the Zelda’s kitchen, Holder said “It’s humbling to see the sincerity in everyone’s appreciation. We made it a point to make sure that everyone working at the hospital was fed, regardless of their department. Just like it is with restaurants, hospitals are only as effective as the sum of their parts. It was a beautiful thing to see how much it really meant to my colleagues when those lunches arrived.”
On the last day of the program, employees lined the outside of the hospital as a token of appreciation for those involved in the boxed lunch program and Frank Silvia was met by Pam McLaughlin to say thank you for all their hard work and generosity. Silvia, on behalf of his crew, received a well-deserved ovation from the hospital staff. Pictured below is that interaction and as they say, a photo is worth a thousand words.
It’s articles like this that I enjoy sharing the most. With so much negativity in the media and a looming cloud of uncertainty surrounding our city, writing about stories such as this make being a contributor so worthwhile. I can’t say enough about the individuals mentioned in this article.
The technical definition of hospitality is as follows; ‘the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.’ For hospital employees and front line workers, it means taking care of their patients especially in the midst of a pandemic. For these hospitality workers, it’s been taking care of those who are taking of our family and friends.
That’s the true meaning of hospitality.