ALL PHOTOS BY KEIKO HIROMI
As is widely recognized at this point in the pandemic, the restaurant industry is taking an unprecedented blow, with many individuals and businesses facing devastation with no end in sight. The National Restaurant Association estimates that 3 million industry employees have already lost their jobs, with restaurants across the country taking a combined $225 billion sales hit through May.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced a temporary shutdown of all restaurants and bars except for takeout and delivery back on March 17. In the time since, countless tipped as well as hourly wage workers have seen their earnings slashed or vanished. Still, through it all, many local restaurants are providing meals to fellow restaurant workers who are impacted.
Some restaurant owners, such as celebrity chefs Jody Adams of Porto and Ming Tsai of Blue Dragon, are focused on protecting and feeding people in their own industry. Working with the Lee Initiative and Maker’s Mark, Blue Dragon is bringing meals to East Boston as part of its Restaurant Workers Relief Fund. In another initiative that has raised nearly $75,000 at the time of this writing, Trade, Porto, and Saloniki are providing “meals to Boston’s frontline healthcare workers and displaced restaurant employees during this difficult time.”
In Cambridge, Tracy Chang, owner-chef of Pagu, is cooking meals for frontline workers in healthcare centers and hospitals in the Boston area. Pagu is one of the first restaurant partners of Off Their Plate, a creation of Harvard Medical Student Natalie Guo, which works to provide relief for healthcare and restaurant employees. Collaborating with NPO World Central Kitchen, OTP has expanded to multiple cities and is working with more than 50 restaurants and 110 healthcare facilities across the nation. They have fundraised more than $3 million, and pay restaurants $10 for every meal produced for frontline workers.
“As a completely volunteer-run organization, 100% of our donations go to our restaurant partners,” Dillan Arrick of OTP explained. “They have committed to providing at least 50% of that donation to economic relief for their staff. We have worked with our restaurants to average about $10 per meal so that the donation dollars can stretch further. In this way, we are able to serve and support a high number of healthcare workers on the frontline of COVID.”
The restaurant relief program meal truck operated by Blue Dragon restaurant in Revere. (April 16, 2020)
Meals for frontline workers from Pagu in Cambridge. (April 25, 2020)
A Porto staff member in Boston prepares meals for frontline workers. (April 17, 2020)
Tracy Chang of Pagu chatting with Bryan Peugh of Baja Taco Truck in front of Pagu in Cambridge. (April 25, 2020)
Kitchen staff prepares meals for frontline workers at Pagu in Cambridge. Pagu is one of the first restaurant partners of Off Their Plate (OTP). (April 25, 2020)
Working with NPO World Central Kitchen, OTP has expanded to multiple cities and is working with more than 50 restaurants and 110 healthcare facilities across the nation. (April 25, 2020)
OTP has fundraised more than $3 million, and pays $10 for every meal produced for frontline workers. (April 25, 2020)
Tara Prasad at Boston Health Care for the Homeless, one of the facilities partnering with OTP. (April 22, 2020)
Tracy Chang of Pugu restaurant delivering meals to Boston Health Care for the Homeless. (April 22, 2020)
Chang of Pugu delivers to Diana Aycinena, a registered nurse at Boston Health Care for the Homeless. (April 22, 2020)
The kitchen staff at Pagu in Cambridge prepares meals for frontline workers. (April 25, 2020)
Pagu is one of the first restaurant partners of OTP. (April 25, 2020)
Pagu, Cambridge. (April 25, 2020)
Meals via Pagu in Cambridge. (April 25, 2020)
Diana Aycinena holds a box of meals from OTP with Tara Prasad and Natasha Vargas at Boston Health Care for the Homeless. (April 22, 2020)
James Fava, general manager at Blue Dragon, at the relief program meal truck in Revere. (April 16, 2020)
The restaurant relief truck operated by Blue Dragon restaurant. (April 16, 2020)
Saloniki GIVES provides for frontline workers at hospitals and healthcare centers. (April 17, 2020)
Mattapan Community Health Center staffers receive meals from Pagu through OTP. (April 24, 2020)
This article was produced in collaboration with the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism as part of its Pandemic Democracy Project.
Keiko Hiromi is a Japanese photographer based in Boston and Tokyo, Japan. Her work has appeared on NYT, People Magazine, Vanity Fair, El Pais, Der Spiegel, Boston Globe, PRI, ABC news, and other publications around the globe.