Restaurants cook up a meal a day for laid-off staff, service workers

While local businesses struggle to survive, some are going the extra mile to help those who suddenly find themselves unable to put food on the table.

Some food-service workers laid off due to restaurant closures or unable to work due to self-quarantine are getting free meals from their employer — and also from the public.

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Dave Craggs, chef partner at Ferris’ Oyster Bar, Ferris’ Grill and Perro Negro, has pledged to donate a meal a day — for as long as he can — to all his laid-off staff.

His three restaurants, like thousands across B.C., have been closed to dine-in business. This has idled all of his front of house staff for the near future.

The speed of the closures and the sudden drop in customers meant that he had perishable food on hand.

Some establishments chose to close and donate their produce and dairy products to food banks before they spoiled.

Craggs, however, decided he would cook a meal a day for his staff of 50 for as long as he can with his existing food supply. He is hoping to inspire others to help other beleaguered employees in the restaurant industry.

“My hope is that others will join in a bigger movement to help many others out of work in the hospitality industry,” said Craggs, a 35-year restaurant-industry veteran.

His generosity is not lost on Matilve Ponce-Caron, a server at one of his restaurants.

“I am new to the family, after recently moving here from Vancouver last August,” said Ponce-Caron. “So, it really surprised me when he revealed his plan. It is phenomenal actually, a really helpful gesture.”

She said that despite having to use the same list of ingredients, Craggs has managed to make the meals different every day, so laid-off employees don’t feel as though they are eating the same thing over and over.

The public can also pitch in to help, by purchasing — and donating — a single meal for $8 or a family meal for $24 on the restaurant’s Doordash online delivery menu. These meals are given to other Victoria service workers, who can request meals via freestaffmeal@gmail.com.

Rebecca Teskey, owner of Farm and Field Butchers, has also contributed to the initiative, donating meat for the meals.

“The virus hit really fast and in less than two weeks, everything has changed,” said Teskey, owner of the downtown business. “With all the restaurant workers out of a job, we wanted to pitch in and do what we can for them.”

Even competitors are joining in and contributing what they can — with a promise to do more in the months ahead.

Laid-off staff at all three 10 Acres restaurants have been returning to the downtown location over the past few days to pick up a free bag of groceries as the restaurant clears out its perishable goods. That’s on top of produce the restaurant donated to Craggs for his meals.

“Despite being competitors, we have a good relationship,” said Marcelo Najarro, executive chef at the group of restaurants, which normally has close to 100 employees on the payroll.

“We are all in this together. We need to stick together and have each other’s backs.”

The group also owns 10 Acres Farm on McTavish Road in North Saanich that supplies fresh produce to the restaurants and is expected to begin selling to the public to offset falling revenue.

“It is our hope that the farm can sustain the company with the restaurants closed to sit-down business,” Najarro said.

The farm is currently supplying the last of the winter vegetables, such as winter squash. It also donates produce to a local food bank.

Thanks to favourable weather, Najarro said, the farm is about two weeks from harvesting its first crop of spring vegetables, including asparagus, kale, cauliflower, spring onions, beets, cilantro, sage and spinach, with most of the supply expected to be available in April.

parrais@timescolonist.com

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