Restaurants throughout the country have been gutted by the coronavirus pandemic, but that hasn’t stopped empathetic owners in the Falls Church area from crafting new ways to bring their food to the people — and just maybe make a little money in the process.
The hospitality industry as a whole has been brutalized by the protective measures taken due to the onset of the novel coronavirus. The virus’ high transmissibility has caused government officials to shut down dine-in operations and sternly advise social distancing guidelines where everyone should stay at least six feet apart. The National Restaurant Association reports the industry has lost more than 3 million jobs and $25 billion in sales since March 1 and around 50 percent of restaurant operators think they will have to lay off more people in April.
It’s left many restaurants with their heads in the lunette of a guillotine, pushing owners to either close down, let go of some staff or both. However some Falls Church area establishments haven’t wilted yet, and are maneuvering through the crisis by bringing their dishes to those who need them most.
Spin Pollo off Arlington Boulevard is one that is shifting its business to focus on food deliveries to health care workers in the area.
After a family member shared the idea to owner Germán Andrade, he began setting up the “Buy Our Heroes Lunch” program just last Wednesday, where visitors can donate $9 to cover a meal for a nearby nurse, doctor or aide and Spin Pollo will deliver it for free. Since kick-starting this effort, he’s already delivered 60 meals to the INOVA Women’s and Children’s Clinic along Route 50 as well taken food to HealthQare Associates in Arlington and Davitas Diálisis clinic in Tysons Corner.
Andrade is taking the staples from his Peruvian chicken restaurant to the front line workers. That includes bringing pans of rice, french fries and 15 birds to INOVA’s clinic last week. Spin Pollo even provides plates and flatware so the workers can serve themselves as much as they want.
In total, the restaurant has delivered 128 lunches and has orders for 90 more that will be distributed this week. Places on its list include INOVA’s Fairfax Hospital, the Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Alexandria, the Tu Family Medical and Vision Clinic in Falls Church and the Virginia Hospital Center office in Arlington. One nurse shed a couple of tears when Spin Pollo made their drop off at Kaiser, Andrade said.
Andrade believes it’s essential to feeding the people who are helping those affected by coronavirus, but it’s also a good way for his business to avoid the red.
“The other reason we’re doing this obviously is to keep our doors open and keep our employees afloat,” Andrade said. “We have a lot of people with families and they can’t afford to be unemployed. I’m not taking any salary during all this crisis, but mostly I don’t want to fire or lay off anybody and I haven’t done that.”
Another Falls Church restaurant, Mark’s Pub, is turning its attention toward those who have lost their regular meals due to the school’s closing down.
The restaurant and bar tucked away in the Idylwood Plaza just off Leesburg Pike gave 250 meals to the Falls Church Presybeterian Church on Wednesday night, said owner Lisa Cedrone. The church will now distribute those meals to children who would’ve normally been fed at area schools if they were open.
Cedrone said that she was always most interested in finding a way to help out kids during the pandemic, so she’s preparing a hot, kid-friendly meal for the church — a sandwich to go with a choice of chili, chicken noodle soup or tomato bacon bisque as well as a granola bar as a snack.
With everything going on, she added, she wanted to put her kitchen to good use for something positive.
“We should be cooking in there and utilizing that space for something good,” Cedrone said, while adding that she’d love to continue to do this for other places as long as it makes sense money-wise. “We have to figure it out financially. We’re paying for food for 250 people out of our own pocket. We’re happy to keep going, we just gotta figure out how to keep going and get it out there.”
One event that was pre-planned but carried on despite the virus was the Original Pancake House’s fundraiser for the Falls Church Education Foundation.
Taking place last Thursday, this would’ve been the eighth year the two teamed up to help support Falls Church City schools by donating a 15 percent of all dine-in sales, but since owner Jeff Bulman had to convert his restaurant to carry-out and delivery-only, the change in format also meant a change in who would be helped by the philanthropic effort.
Foundation president Debbie Hiscott said that money raised this year would go toward the Family Assistance Fund, as opposed to the foundation’s general fund, in order to help those families most dramatically impacted by Covid-19.
Bulman said that he added an extra cook to his skeletal crew to make sure it could meet demand for orders that were picked up either at the restaurant or delivered through GrubHub or DoorDash. By the end of the day, the pancake house brought in $1,270 and cut a check for $190 to FCEF, which is less than half of the usual $300 – $400 it can normally contribute.
Still, Hiscott was happy that Bulman and the staff were able to help pull off what turned into an unusual event and give to local families.
“We’re so thankful that our businesses are continuing to support our families in need while they’re concerned about keeping their own business open,” Hiscott said. “They’re thinking about others, which is incredible.”
Those interested in donating to Spin Pollo’s “Buy Our Heroes Lunch” program can do so at its website.
On Friday, the Original Pancake House is hosting a dine-out day for the ARC of Northern Virginia, a nonprofit that supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and on April 7, the restaurant is also doing a dine-out day for Homestretch, a nonprofit that supports homeless families.
Mark’s Pub will continue to provide meals to children through the Falls Church Presbyterian Church for the next three weeks.