Restaurants offer free meals to anyone struggling through coronavirus changes

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Despite losing considerable business as concern around the new coronavirus sweeps through central Texas, local restaurants are offering free meals to anyone who might be struggling with changes brought on by the virus that causes the disease COVID-19.

Crema Bakery and Cafe in south Austin is providing brown bag lunches free of charge to families or individuals who need a meal during spring break. The restaurant posted the offer on social media, and “within an hour it had exploded,” said Jessica Tomberlin, who owns the bakery with her wife.

Tomberlin doesn’t know what the coming days and weeks will bring after the city closed all dine-in restaurants to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Even before the order, the cafe’s brunch this past Sunday — a big money-maker that usually carries them through the week — was sparse. She started thinking about what she could do to help the people who weren’t showing up.

It didn’t take her long: “Just call, just stop in and let us know that you need to eat. No questions asked, we’ll make a lunch for you.”

“It is counter-intuitive for sure for us to do this at a time when our business is really, really low,” she said. But “that’s our job is to feed people, and feeding people is love, sustaining them through the times when they can’t provide for themselves.”

One Austinite, who requested to remain anonymous, was thankful for the meal on Tuesday. She lives in south Austin and went out for a bike ride to the cafe. “I have been out of work for a couple of days,” she explained. “I work as a contractor, so my contract was ended when all of this kind of went down.”

A native Austinite, she appreciates the business reaching out to help the community.

“I think that’s what Austin’s all about,” she said. “In situations like this, it’s incredibly important to still remember that we’re human.”

Message of love

Tso Chinese Delivery is offering free meals, too, delivered anywhere within their delivery zone to anyone who sends an email to tsogiving@tsodelivery.com.

The restaurant launched the campaign to give back despite the fact that its catering business, “which is a significant part of our business,” cratered at the outset of the outbreak, said Min Choe, Tso’s CEO. “There’s been a decline in business overall.”

The Austin-based company is hurting, too: its catering contracts cratered during the outbreak, but Choe and the owners realized they could still do something to help their community.

It’s a message of love and support for a city that’s treated the delivery service startup so well over the last few years. And members of that community have stepped in to help, too.

“We’ve had a lot of volunteers offering to transport food to people that are outside of our delivery zone, so that was really heartwarming to hear,” Choe said.

More pain to come

Restaurants across the city are trying to figure out what the closure will mean for their businesses.

Tomberlin spoke to KXAN shortly after finding out about the city’s order, saying closing her dining room will be a “big hit” for the cafe. They’re moving to takeout and curbside pickup only, and they’re working to create a delivery option.

Her goal is to keep the business going for her employees. “It’s just hard to imagine how I’m going to take care of them, how I’m going to take care of my family with all of these things against us,” she said.

She hopes she doesn’t have to make any staffing changes in the coming weeks and that when the outbreak is over, her customers come right back to help her get back on her feet.

“That’s our job as a people,” she said, “to take care of each other.”

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