Chefs of mom and pop restaurants across Detroit came together to create the Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen for Good initiative. They now serve three homeless shelters.
As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to escalate, hundreds of restaurants across the United States have been forced to shut. Some due to directives issued by local governments, and others, because they were simply not profitable enough to keep open. Instead of closing up shop, some mom and pop establishments based in Detroit have decided to put their resources to good use. A handful of chefs in the Motor City have come together to cook meals for the homeless, CNN reports. They have created an initiative named 'Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen for Good'. With the help of donations, they now cook for three homeless shelters in the city.
Over the past few years, Detroit has become a city of foodies. Local chefs have been fostering a vibrant food scene. David Rudolph, a public relations representative for several local eateries, pointed out, "We're known for Motown and cars and manufacturing. But in the last three years, there has definitely been a culinary boom." However, when the COVID-19 epidemic hit, many restaurants experienced a rapid slowdown in business. Then, on March 21, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer directed all bars, restaurants, and other businesses to remain shut through at least April 13. For small mom and pop eateries, this was a devastating blow.
"I think the week before we closed, the business was down 30 percent," explained Maxcel Hardy, the chef at family-owned restaurant Coop Caribbean Fusion. "To already have that valley, then a shutdown, it's really tough to bounce back from that." On top of that, the restaurant had stocked up on produce that would have lasted them numerous restaurant services. Over time, that food would have spoiled. Chef Hardy stated, "I didn't want to see that product go to waste." Therefore, he began distributing the food to his staff at first. He shared, "They were out of a job and didn't have anything but the last paycheck." Despite this, there was still plenty of food left over.
Chef Hardy knew he couldn't be the only one experiencing this problem. With this in mind, he got in touch with four other restauranteurs. They, like him, needed to find an inventive way to use their leftover produce. That is how Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen for Good was born. In addition to Hardy's Caribbean cuisine, the initiative features a Thai influence from chef Genevieve Vang at Bangkok 96 Street Food. Additionally, Ron Bartell at Kuzzo's Chicken and Waffles and Stephanie Byrd of Flood's Bar and Grille and The Block have joined in. While these four chefs work the kitchen, Phil Jones from the Detroit catering collective Ma Haru works the phone lines and keeps the supply of food coming. Together, they cook meals for the city's homeless.
Chad Audie, president of Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, said of the initiative, "It was definitely was a godsend to us." Audie's organization is home to 2,000 residents. At present, they are all being served by the Too Many Cooks group. Sadly, the pandemic is placing more pressure on shelters across Detroit as the Centers for Disease Control have issued new guidelines for people facing homelessness. "We have to keep [the residents] 24/7 because we can't just let him go back to the streets," he shared. "The healthy meals are boosting the morale of the population, as well as lifting a financial burden from the mission. We always said we are one paycheck away from being homeless ourselves. But today, it's becoming a reality, and we need to help the most vulnerable population in our communities."
For Chef Hardy, this initiative really hit home. As a child, he experienced food insecurity himself. Prior to opening his own restaurant, he was the director of the New York Community Kitchen Food Bank as well. "I was responsible for overseeing a kitchen that served about 700 meals each day," he revealed. "It really kind of hit home and made me realize how important food rescue missions are." At Coop Caribbean Fusion, he has a team of 12 employees. He said, "Having a staff of twelve employees that really depend on getting a check every Friday -- to now not knowing when the next checks come in. It's been tough on me mentally." He hopes people remember mom and pop businesses after the Coronavirus epidemic passes. "Those are the pillars of your community and the places you should visit to keep your community rolling," the chef affirmed. "Show them love before we show the big boys love. I would like to see everyone make a list of places that you either haven't been to or you want to visit and then go. The more we can help them, the more we can give back to the community."