Restaurants get creative amid coronavirus

Up to 30 restaurants can apply to get funding to stay open and feed customers.

As restaurants around the world are urged to shut down or transition exclusively to delivery and takeout to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, some are finding creative ways to keep their doors open and help feed their communities.

Social distancing, self-quarantines and isolation recommendations have been urged by government and health officials around the world as thousands have died among hundreds of thousands of reported cases.

Here's how some businesses are keeping busy.

Rethink Food NYC Inc.

Rethink Food NYC Inc. launched an emergency food program called Restaurant Response, where up to 30 neighborhood restaurants can apply to receive $40,000 to stay open, with staffers still getting paid while providing nutritious meals for free or a minimal donation.

Rethink Food operates by repurposing excess food from restaurants, grocery stores, events and corporate offices into ready-to-eat meals that are delivered to soup kitchens, shelters and other human services programs in New York City.

"The soup kitchens and other agencies that required group settings are starting to shut down, so we had to change our strategy," said Meg Savage, executive director of Rethink Food.

Through Friday, the non-profit organization founded by Matt Jozwiak had received 50 applications.

Little Tong Noodle Shop's East Village location is the first business to participate.

Rethink Food has tapped into their annual budget for the restaurant-sponsorship initiative and has an ultimate goal to serve 1,000 meals a day.

The need for food continues to grow throughout the five boroughs, Savage said.

As a result, the company has prematurely opened its own storefront location on Clinton Avenue in Brooklyn while still operating out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, preparing dozens of meals a day.

Savage said Rethink Food keeps in contact with World Central Kitchen, which started distributing meals in the Bronx and Queens on Tuesday, to help provide meals.


Over in the Bay Area in Northern California, a Mexican restaurant, Puesto, has been giving away boxes of prepared and unprepared foods to families in need.

"We are trying to retain as much of our team as possible and give back to the community that has been supporting up for the last eight years," said Alexander Adler, Puesto's owner.

Since the chain of restaurants -- in San Diego, Irvine, Santa Clara and Concord -- were affected by a shelter-in-place order beginning Monday, the Puesto Cares initiative is contributing canned food they already received from a distributor.

"We have gotten very creative with maximizing our dollars as far as we can go by creating boxes that have the staples to get families by -- beans, rice, potatoes, apples, oranges -- and some sweets, just to have something to make them happy," Adler said. "Hopefully we can continue for as long as we can."

After a week of preparing more than 5,000 boxes, Adler is concerned about the cost of keeping up the effort.

"We are still trying to keep on doing it, but have to find balance on how much of our own funds we have to use, to keep investing in this, while trying to keep our team is the most important thing to us," said Adler, who says it cost $5 to put together a box that should last a family a full week.

Adler's hope is to get larger restaurants involved and expand the effort nationwide.

Sauce Pizzeria

Adam Elzer, owner of Sauce Pizzeria in Manhattan, was in the middle of an ordinary day at the Rivington Street location when a call from a hospital worker came in.

"We got a message from a nurse saying it was hard to eat because they are dealing with all the patients, and all the restaurants nearby were closed," Elzer told ABC News. "They just wanted to have a delivery of food."

Elzer went to make a delivery to the hospital and realized that there was a big need to help those who are helping others.

"Nurses and doctors are being pulled into a situation that's very different -- they are risking their lives," Elzer said. "We just want them to smile, and pizza makes people smile. We want them to have a meal, and we want to support them."

Elzer is asking his customers, after completing their own online orders on his website, to add a "Cheese Pie for Hospital Donation" item to their carts, to suggest a hospital, hospital worker or anyone in New York City to send a whole pie.

The request is good between noon and 6 p.m., said Elzer, who added that his place is delivering up to 150 per day, enough to feed about 80 people.

He's also asking customers to help out by picking up their orders and delivering their requested free pies as well.

"I have been working around the clock, my team is motivated," added Elzer, who said he hopes more restaurants across the country can help out hospital workers.

What to know about Coronavirus:

  • How it started and how to protect yourself: Coronavirus explained
  • What to do if you have symptoms: Coronavirus symptoms
  • Tracking the spread in the US and Worldwide: Coronavirus map