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Memphis restaurants come together to help laid-off co-workers during coronavirus pandemic

Puck Food Hall's 'Family Meal'
On March 21, Puck Food Hall hosted a “Family Meal” for laid-off restaurant industry workers.

The free family meal night was the idea of Brad McCarley, owner of City Block Salumeria, and Spencer Coplan, owner of Wok'n in Memphis.

“This is our family,” said McCarley of why they organized the dinner. “Most of us in this industry have worked together at some point.”

Close to 50 people stopped by to enjoy food from close to a dozen restaurants.

“We set up a buffet of all the donated food and a stack of to-go containers,” McCarley said.

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All the Puck Food Hall vendors participated, including places like City Block Salumeria, Wok'n in Memphis, Dough Jo Pizza and Sweet Magnolia Gelato. Other South Main restaurants chipped in as well. Eateries like Silly Goose, Catherine & Mary’s, Rizzo’s, Grecian Gourmet and The Vault all donated dishes for the cause.

Corky's offers free meals to employees 
Like all Memphis restaurants dealing with layoffs, Corky’s Ribs & BBQ wanted to ease the burden of its employees who were laid off because of the mandate that restaurants shutter dining rooms.

The solution: free meals.

"We are in the food business, and we will band together as a family and help them with their meals through these frozen food boxes" said Jimmy Stovall, Corky's chief operating officer. 

Corky’s is providing each laid-off employee with a box full of frozen food items each week for their family. The box contains frozen Corky’s proteins, Corky’s sides, apple sauce and pudding from a local food brokerage company.

Corky’s is also giving its employees weekly Corky’s gift certificates so they can stop by any Corky’s drive-thru and pick up a meal for their family, if they don’t want to cook that day.

"We may not be able to pay them during this temporary layoff, but we certainly can make sure they won’t have to worry about food," Stovall said.

Caritas has been offering free meals to those in need from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. Over the past week, the McMillins have witnessed the level of need in Memphis gradually increase each day. Spencer predicts it will only get worse as more restaurants and businesses close.

The outpouring of support has been overwhelming. Restaurants, farmers and food purveyors are donating food. Chefs are volunteering to work in the kitchen.

The menu reads like one at a farm-to-table restaurant, with the names of local farms and restaurants before ingredients.

For meal service on Tuesday alone, Caritas received food donations Memphis News from several restaurants, including The Rendezvous, Farm & Fries, The Vault and Blue's City Donuts. The list of farm donations included Claybrook Farms, McMerton Gardens, Sandy Ridge Farms and Fenster Farm. The list of donors varies, and grows, every day.

“Everyone is completely grateful. They appreciate being fed a free meal made with quality farm-fresh produce and meats,” Spencer said. “This whole week has been overwhelming. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to do this.”

Spencer plans to keep his kitchen open for lunch as long as he can.

Spencer said Memphians can help Caritas continue to provide free meals in two ways. “Stop by for a free meal and make a donation or go online to our website and make an online donation.”

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