By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
Across the board, the economy has taken a huge hit due to the COVID-19 outbreak. One of the most affected industries, if not the most, is the restaurant industry.
Despite many layoffs and cuts that restaurants have had to make, several restaurant owners have prioritized giving back to the community by providing free meals to health care workers, children, and anyone in need.
With restaurant workers losing their jobs, people risking their lives trying to help others, and students without school meals, Melissa Miranda wanted to do something for the greater good.
Starting in mid-March, Miranda, owner of Musang Seattle in Beacon Hill, converted her restaurant to a community kitchen to serve those affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
The kitchen connects with senior centers, community nonprofits, and hospitals. People in need can call in to place a food order and coordinate pick-up times.
Miranda said the kitchen serves a different menu daily based on what ingredients are available. Example menus have featured a Filipino rice porridge, chop suey, pineapple chicken, and pork tocino.
Miranda had a soft opening for the restaurant back in December, with an official public opening in January. Musang means “wild cat” in Tagalog and is Miranda’s father’s nickname. Miranda started the restaurant as a pop-up almost four years ago to educate the community about Filipino cuisine.
“The intent is to serve whatever food we can out of here,” she said.
Miranda said they have served around 150 meals per day and are continuing to mobilize with other community groups to help more people.
“The biggest thing we’re trying to let people know is that Musang was community built and the only way to take care of the community is by doing this. It’s important for people to realize at the end of the day, these efforts are because of the people who helped build this place,” she said.
People can donate nonperishable items, as well as money to help the community kitchen continue to operate. Donations can be made via Venmo (@Melmir) and PayPal (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Musang has joined forces with That Brown Girl Cooks, Guerilla Pizza Kitchen, and Chef Tarik Abdullah to create the Seattle Community Kitchen Collective to provide free meals to those in need.
Royal India Restaurant
After 26 years in the Greater Seattle community, Royal India Restaurant is giving back by feeding the frontline health care workers at Evergreen Hospital.
Zehra Bhatti’s father started the restaurant and now she and her sisters are helping out. Since March 16, they have provided 100 hot meals for Evergreen hospital workers. They’ve also started a GoFundMe fundraiser to push the effort further.
“Our meals are going a very long way and we’re doing wonderful with donations rolling in from all over…Canada, New York, Pakistan…there’s such positivity and good vibes,” she said.
Bhatti said that a donation of $5 provides a boxed meal to a health care worker that’s packed, prepped, and dropped off with love. Meals they have served include butter chicken, vegetarian curry, and tandoori chicken—they’re also throwing in a healthy option like a mixed green salad with fruit and grilled paneer or chicken.
They’ve also reached out to other hospitals including both Evergreen locations in Kirkland and Redmond, as well as Swedish Medical Centers.
“It’s just a selfless act, any selfless act goes a long way. There’s always a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, let’s just look up and hope we get our summers back, and see the positive at the end of it all,” Bhatti said.
To donate, visit gofundme.com/f/boxed-meals-for-our-heros-in-scrubs.
Kizuki Ramen is another restaurant that has opened its doors to serving free meals.
Brandon Ting, co-owner and CEO, said they started this program after they heard that schools were cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“A lot of families count on school lunches provided, and we knew families would be concerned about how to feed their kids,” he said. “We want to help the children because they’re the most important assets to protect, so we want to help those families in need.”
Ting and his partners are discussing how to expand the program. The restaurant is currently serving chicken and pork chashu don—no purchase required. On average, they’re serving 800 meals every day at all eight locations across the country, seven days a week.
Ting has received a lot of positive responses. There was a particular standout moment when a mother came in with her two kids to ask for the free meal.
“We happily provided the meals and when she received them, she started crying. I could feel the stress she was under as she broke down into tears,” Ting said.
The woman took the meals to a bench nearby to eat the food and Ting looked out the window, making eye contact with the mother.
“I could feel the humanity between us. The sunlight was shining on them while the kids happily ate, and the mother looked at us with a smile and appreciation on her face. It really moved us and made us more determined to continue the program,” he said.
Other restaurants stepping up
Crawfish King delievered 80 lunches to staff at International Community Health Services on March 30.
Taste of India recently provided free meals to the University of Washington’s Department of Virology.
Donna Moodie of Marjorie recently provided 100 meals to families in need.
Frelard Tamales will provide free meals indefinitely.
Mutsuko Soma of Kamonegi is offering free onigiri and yakult to kids under 12 years old.
The Feedme Hospitality Group (restaurants include Bar Dojo, SanKai, Salt & Iron, and The Market) is offering a free kids meal for every $15 spent.
Nina can be reached at email@example.com.