Longtime local chef helps restaurant workers get by during the coronavirus crisis
One group of community members that has been the hardest hit by the response to COVID-19 has been front-line restaurant workers. While the businesses themselves have managed to find ways to stay open with carryout or delivery options, it is often with skeleton crews. Wait and kitchen staff may be temporarily laid off and facing a waiting game that causes uncertainty and instability.
One person who saw a need to help is Clint Jolly. Working with volunteers from the overall restaurant community and his current employer, Sysco, Jolly staged a DIY relief effort on April 3 to give bags of groceries to displaced restaurant workers.
“I’ve been blessed to have a great career in the industry, and part of that is due to the community I’ve been surrounded with all of these years,” said Jolly, who currently works as a sales specialist and consultant for Sysco. “I’m happy now to give back some of that support when it’s needed.”
Jolly is likely a well known name to many Renoites. He owned the venerable Butcher Boy deli and catering business for well over a decade in the ’90s and ’00s, and since then has developed other catering and food marketing businesses. As such, he understands what restaurant and bar wage workers are going through right now.
“If you are a server or a bartender and you are living on tips, and that all goes away for three weeks or more and you have no income, it’s really going to hurt most people,” he said.
Once the restaurant closures starting taking place, Jolly and Sysco had been getting requests to support several projects around town aimed at helping people economically during the pandemic.
“All the requests were very valid, but they were not really working on feeding the people in our industry,” Jolly said. “So our thought was if we just got some grocery support together and found a way to distribute things grass-roots, it would help out those who are out of work and need to eat.”
Jolly started to organize the effort through a private Facebook group of restaurant owners. The distribution method was solved when fellow chef Mark Estee offered Liberty Food & Wine Exchange in downtown Reno as a location. With nearby Fulton Alley as a great place to have cars come through for distribution, the effort started coming together.
The food itself was voluminous to say the least.
“We had 16 to 17 pounds of proteins—chicken wings, Italian sausage, short ribs, skirt steaks, ground beef, a variety of stuff,” Jolly explained. “Sysco also had a lot of produce products we could distribute—green beans, watermelon, mushrooms, peas, just a huge variety of things. Basically, we got a bunch of bags and built a bag of meat and a bag of produce for each person.”
Jolly said that it was distributed on the honor system to help ensure that the relief would go to restaurant workers.
“If we didn’t know the people, we’d just ask where they worked and would just hand the bags over to them,” he said.
The end result was the distribution of 300 bags for 180 people. Jolly said he was especially cheered by the response of some workers.
“Some people just wanted one bag,” he said. “They would say, ‘There’s no way I’m going to be able to use that much food,’ which was very cool, and we really appreciated that. That way if we had couples with kids in the car, we could load them up with extras.”
They also collected some money, which went to Feed Our Heroes, a local grass-roots effort where restaurants create grab-and-go meals for front-line medical workers, especially those who can’t leave the medical floor due to treating coronavirus patients.
Jolly said that there still the possibility of staging another DIY effort to help restaurant workers. “At this point, we want to see where the need arises in a week or two, and if we see a need then Sysco has a lot of resources we could pull in,” Jolly said. “We are trying to keep in touch with folks.”
At the same time, Jolly said that anyone could—and should—help out any way they can.
“You don’t need to wait for a big company, for me or anybody else, to do something,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s today’s society; there’s a lot of food waste in retail, grocery, etc. It would be great to put that to use in some way for individuals. People can also go out and order a takeout meal. And if you can throw in 10 bucks extra for the staff, that would help so much in the long run.”