AUSTIN (KXAN) — As we all hibernate indoors to stay safe with our “bear necessities,” one Austin organization is encouraging locals to instead be like Yogi Bear, grab a meal and enjoy a “pic-a-nic” in our living rooms — all on the same day.
ATX Love Local marked the date of the ATX Living Room Picnic initiative as Saturday, April 4. This idea was born over two weeks after Gov. Greg Abbott issued statewide mandates with restrictions and closures of businesses as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I saw the direct impact it had on the hospitality industry,” Living Room Picnic Organizer, Lindsey LeRoy said. She has worked in it for over eight years, and so has her husband. They both have many friends affected. “Everyone impacted in the same way, at the same time is comforting and terrifying.”
Memories of picnicking during the spring at Zilker Park inspired her to curb the uncertainty.
“While we can’t do that now, I thought it’d be so fun if we can do it ‘together’ but everyone in their own living rooms,” LeRoy said.
LeRoy mentioned in an email that the city-wide event is meant to encourage locals “to purchase a picnic-style meal and beverages of choice to enjoy in the comfort of their own living room … Celebrate what makes Austin great while supporting your favorite local restaurants, breweries, wine shops & musicians.”
LeRoy also encourages people to support local musicians and add some notes to your nourishment. Local mental health service The SIMS Foundation curates a special playlist featuring a lineup of Austin artists. You can donate to them here.
Pic‘ your favorite restaurant
Chef Ben Runkle, who owns Salt & Time Butcher Shop and Restaurant, is one of the participants promoting the effort. “I love the idea of having a picnic, even if you’re doing it in your living room. I think there’s, you know, you should do it, kind of classic-style.” He, like many others, are offering picnic packages catered to the spirit of the day. For him, there was no hesitation to join the cause.
“We know [the ATX Love Local] folks, we’ve worked with some of them, and when they told us about it, we thought it was a great idea,” Runkle said. “Both as an opportunity to support other restaurants all working together on a project that would bring awareness to what we’re all doing.”
“All of these restaurants are putting together these really fun packages that make it so easy. Whether or not you like to cook or not, they make it so easy to put a meal on your table,” LeRoy said. “When you’re buying from a local restaurant, a local wine shop, your putting a meal on your table, but your also helping to put a meal on their table.”
Food for thought and meaning
It’s also a way to “engage a little deeper with the community,” Runkle said. “We’re all going through this craziness together, and anything we can do to kind of reinforce our social bonds without having to physically do it is a great idea.”
Runkle recently converted his bar and dining room into an “expanded market area” after closing a few days before the new state policy. The market includes local produce, ingredients and groceries. Many other restaurants aren’t as fortunate.
On the financial side, it’s literally a lifeline. We at Salt & Time, with our grocery side are lucky. We have a lot more business than most. If we were just the restaurant side, we would have had to probably close by now. And, so all of these restaurants staying open to provide food and keep some of their staff employed are probably doing it as a loss, in all honesty. Most of them. And they’re just trying to stay alive through this.Runkle said.
An event like Saturday’s living room picnic injects a “burst of sales … to help these folks continue to operate, continue to keep people employed, but also just to keep that connection,” Runkle said. “Restaurants are about coming together, about community, hanging out, and when that’s taken away from us, it’s hard.”
“No matter how small an effort, any effort that we contribute is gonna guarantee our success in the long term,” LeRoy said. “This is just the beginning, and a lot of local businesses are gonna need support from the community for a long time to come.”
The entire list of participating restaurants, bars, etc. can be found by scrolling down on the main page of the organization’s website. Links are provided for each. Customers are encouraged to call the restaurant directly if they are having issues ordering online.