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These Australian Restaurants Are Giving Back to the Community During COVID-19

Despite being hit hard themselves, these hospo venues are doling out free meals to the country's most vulnerable. And you can help, too.
By Libby Curran
April 23, 2020
By Libby Curran
April 23, 2020

The changes of the past couple of weeks have hit Australia's hospitality industry hard. First, there were the tighter restrictions on venue numbers and spacing; then the government's closure of all non-essential businesses means hospitality venues were forced to shut their doors and rely solely on whatever takeaway service they had operating — or adapt and launch new ones.

As a result, a huge number of hospitality workers have been left without jobs. According to website I Lost My Hospo Shift, as of Thursday, April 23, 2594 Aussie hospo workers had lost their jobs and 13,237 shifts had been cut, equating to around $2.1 million in lost wages this week alone.

Thankfully, some industry legends are coming to the rescue, lending a helping hand in the form of a few much-needed free feeds. And they're not just helping out unemployed hospo workers either, they're providing free meals to frontline health workers, international students and those just generally doing it tough right now.

In Sydney, James Thorpe — co-owner of Petersham's Oxford Tavern and The Taphouse in Darlinghurst — announced both his venues will continue serving up free takeaway meals for any struggling hospo workers. "If you are a casual hospo worker who is currently underemployed, I will pay for your meal," he said in a post on The Taphouse Instagram page last week. "Simply make yourself known at the bar with your RSA in tow (or just let us know where you work if a cafe worker) and our team will hook you up with a menu."

View this post on Instagram

I'm sure the last thing you want to read is yet another update about how our employees are washing their hands and cleaning constantly. We are about to go into an incredibly hard time for our industry, and I wanted to let you know about some changes we've made in light of the recent COVID-19 happenings: . 🍺 Our entire food menu is now available for takeaway. . 🍺 Our entire packaged beer offering, including our 300-strong bottle list in Odd Culture is available for takeaway. Because we live in NSW, we are unfortunately legally prohibited from delivering this to you. . 🍺 If you are a casual hospo worker who is currently underemployed, I will pay for your meal. Simply make yourself known at the bar with your RSA in tow (or just let us know where you work if a cafe worker) and our team will hook you up with a menu. Limit is one meal per day, and is dine-in only. . So please, if you wish to support us and our employees in this hard time, drop past the pub for a pint; else, if you are practising social distancing, drop past for some takeaway food and a 6 pack of some of the best beers in the world. You'll be supporting a local, independent business that actively supports other local, independent businesses. Woolworths (BWS, Dans) and Coles (Liquorland, Vintage Cellars) do not need your help at the moment, as i'm sure you've seen if you've tried to buy bog roll in the past two weeks. See you at the pub! . Cheers and beers . James Thorpe (owner)

A post shared by The Taphouse (@taphousedarlo) on Mar 18, 2020 at 5:38pm PDT

Meanwhile, Newtown restaurant Hearth & Soul made a comeback especially to throw some support behind struggling Sydneysiders. Owner Rachel Jelley closed the venue in November, but has thrown open the doors for a series of free Friday meal services, catering to both staff and employers in any industry who've lost jobs or income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Alongside a crew of volunteers, she's serving up a rotating menu of produce-focused dishes from 12–2pm each week, inviting diners to register via the website.

"These are the people who have been working tirelessly to provide you with the dining-out experiences you love," Jelley explained. "They've also been cutting your hair, doing your physio, making your coffee and baking your croissants, and now their livelihoods have simply evaporated overnight, in silence. So, I want to feed them."

View this post on Instagram

COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on the hospitality industry, and many service and retail businesses have been terribly affected too. What this means in real human impact is that thousands of people in Sydney alone have lost their jobs literally overnight. These are low income workers with little to fall back on. They can’t pay their rent, they can’t buy groceries, and they can’t get jobs. Their industry just disappeared. These are also the people who have been working tirelessly to provide you with the dining-out experiences you love. They’ve also been cutting your hair, painting your nails, making your coffee and baking your croissants, and now their livelihoods have simply evaporated overnight, in silence. So, I want to feed them. It so happens that I have an empty restaurant premises right now, and I want to open her doors again, this time to offer a free meal to anyone, from any industry, who needs it as a result of job loss due to COVID-19. And I need your help. I am asking for: . . 1. Monetary donations to purchase food and supplies to fund a (delicious) soup kitchen operating for an initial two days a week from the Hearth & Soul premises - see the link in bio for our Go Fund Me page. 🧡 🧡 2. Donations of food, disposable cutlery and bowls, and takeaway packaging - drop off only at this stage, please message me to arrange this. Food-wise I am initially planning on serving hearty soups, so pulses, lentils, beans, barley, pasta, veges (tinned or fresh), onions and garlic, and meat and bones would be very welcome, but really, I’ll take anything! Let me know what you have 💛. 💙 💙 3. Volunteers to work for any amount of time you can on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays or Fridays, to help me whip up lovely nourishing pots of love for those who need it. We will need help with prep, cooking, serving and packing down/cleaning. If you can help in any of these ways I would be so incredibly grateful. ****CONTINUED IN COMMENTS BELOW OR DONATE VIA LINK IN BIO****

A post shared by Hearth & Soul (@hearthandsoul_) on Mar 20, 2020 at 9:43pm PDT

Over in Enmore, Colombo Social is a Sri Lankan restaurant that provides employment opportunities and support to asylum seekers and refugees. But in response to these turbulent times, it's now expanded its focus, teaming up with Mission Australia and a bunch of other local charities to feed as many vulnerable community members as possible. The kitchen's being put to good use, whipping up over 4600 hot, nutritious meals for free to those who are hungry or struggling to feed their families.

Italian chain Fratelli Fresh is also donating 650 meals every week to healthcare workers via its Feed the Front Line program, which is running until the end of June. You can donate a meal for $10 over here, too. Then, there's the group of Manly venues that have banded together in an effort to feed vulnerable hospitality workers. Via a new Go Fund Me campaign, spots like The Cumberland, The Hold, Hugos Manly and 4 Pines are raising money to fund free meals for those in the industry who've lost income and work. Impacted workers are invited to get themselves verified, then to register for any of the nightly-changing, home-delivered dishes. The meals are created using leftover food stocks donated by local restaurants.

And Chippendale local Sneaky Possum has transformed into soup kitchens, dishing up free feeds to hard-hit hospitality staff with complimentary hospo meals from 8pm nightly.

Down in Melbourne, Attica has set up its own soup kitchen. It's selling $25 Thai-inspired chicken broths, with $5 from each one sold going towards preparing food for unemployed hospitality workers on temporary visas. The crew from Brighton barbecue restaurant Coal Blooded Griller are drumming up donations to enable them to whip up free meals for those in need. Having already raised over $3500, they're able to serve hundreds of ready-to-heat, two-person food packs.

View this post on Instagram

The Attica Soup Project bubbled out of conversations between Attica owner Ben Shewry and food writer @danivalent , who arrived in the same place on different paths. Ben is leading his team of 37 through bewildering and immersive challenges to keep Attica afloat. His new workday includes making garlic bread, delivering lasagne and reimagining fine dining dishes for compostable containers, all at two arms’ lengths apart. Dani is watching the hospitality industry that she loves and chronicles chart dark and stormy waters. Her restaurant review column has been cancelled for the unthinkable reason that there are no restaurants to visit. But she is still writing, gathering and sharing information, crafting connections, listening and learning. As the new normal built itself, Ben and Dani realised that talk of ‘we’re all in this together’ didn’t encompass everybody. Temporary visa holders have been excluded from any meaningful government assistance. These people were welcomed from overseas as contributors and tax-payers. Attica depends on its 20 overseas workers to function and will need these chefs, waiters, managers and sommeliers to rebuild. They are threaded through our hospitality world and indeed our society. But the message from the government is: ‘go home’. The food writer became an activist. Dani mustered resources, started a petition, and communicated with overseas workers via an email list that swelled quickly to 1200 people, most of them unable to return to their country of origin but expected to survive in a locked-down Australia without work or a safety net.  It’s not right. Looking after everyone who’s in Australia during the COVID-19 crisis is about social justice and basic humanitarian care. It’s also about health, cohesion and economic benefit. If we’re really all in this together, then it really has to be all of us. A plan was hatched: Ben and Dani will make delicious, nourishing soup to give to overseas hospitality workers doing it tough. Attica is a restaurant that gives back - focusing solely on its own survival doesn’t feel true to the restaurant’s DNA. (Continued in comments)

A post shared by Attica Restaurant Melbourne (@atticamelbourne) on Apr 20, 2020 at 2:32pm PDT

Meanwhile, Essendon burger joint Dribbles is handing out four free meals each week to people who've lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. It's currently taking nominations for the freebies via its Facebook and Instagram.

Newly-hatched non-profit event organisation The Issue X has made a mission to shed honest light on the issues and obstacles faced by the hospitality industry. And in these troubled times, it's turned its attentions to our city's hard-hit hospo staff, especially those on temporary visas who can't bank on any government support. The Issue X team knocked up a heap of nightly meals for those in need.

And Brunswick's Viet-inspired restaurant Shop Bao Ngoc is giving back to its hard-hit hospo community by offering up a nightly changing meat-free dish, available for contactless delivery within three kilometres of the venue. The crew's encouraging a $10 donation for the meals — think, tofu pad thai and vegetable shepherd's pie — but say no one will be turned away for lack of funds. You can even pay it forward by donating money towards someone's future feed.

Check out this poster our good egg of a brother drew for us!

Posted by SHOP BAO NGOC on Wednesday, 25 March 2020

In the Brisbane suburb of Annerley, South Indian restaurant Sankalp is lending a hand by cooking up a swag of free vegetarian meals each Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The dishes are on offer to international students and any locals in need, to collect from the restaurant between 6.30pm and 8.30pm.

Having pivoted its business in response to new public health regulations, Gold Coast eatery The Henchman is now operating as both a takeaway restaurant and food store. For as long as is possible, the owners are inviting anyone feeling the pinch to pop by and fill a bag with pantry supplies, on the house.

And on the Sunshine Coast, a group of Noosa Junction venues have joined forces on a mission to support both their local hospo community and international students staying in the region. Together, eateries including Pasta Pronto, Bombetta and Moto are serving a stack of free breakfasts, lunches and dinners, across a range of daily offers.

If and when you do decide to head out to get food, remember to follow the Australian Government Department of Health's social distancing guidelines.


Know of any other restaurants, cafes or bars doing their bit to help the community? Let us know at [email protected].

Published on April 23, 2020 by Libby Curran
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