To all the furloughed servers, bartenders, cooks, dishwashers, and Philadelphians mourning the losses of our favorite restaurants, it’s not surprising: the pandemic has devastated the hospitality industry.
Our city’s list of temporarily and permanently closed restaurants just keeps growing. As of last December, Pennsylvania was down 140,000 jobs in the hospitality and leisure sector since the pandemic began, more than any other business sector.
What is surprising is that, despite constant struggles to adapt to changing circumstances, many restaurateurs are still finding ways to offer support—often in the form of meals—to their communities, staff and customers. It seems the people who feed us will stop at nothing to continue—it’s just what they do. It’s how they take care of us.
Here are 11 spots giving generously, all while keeping their business afloat and staff compensated. It’s easy to support them—just order takeout.
The owner of this modern Taiwanese spot, Judy Ni, has gone out of her way to protect her employees and feed her community during the pandemic. She’s kept her full staff employed since the pandemic began in March, continued to offer paid time off and benefits, and offered free meals through organizations like Everybody Eats, World Central Kitchen, and Step Up to The Plate. She’s also providing healthy dishes like bian dang (a Taiwanese-style bento) to healthcare providers through Off Their Plate and Nourished (which Ni co-founded) and during election season, she was frequently spotted giving out fried rice to folks in line at early voting centers. Don’t miss the ruen bing, sweet potato donut holes and—new since the pandemic—the make-your-own potsticker kit. Open Tuesday through Saturday 12pm to 8pm Takeout and delivery only.
Kurt Evans created Down North with a very specific mission in mind: to provide employment opportunities to formerly incarcerated people who might otherwise be left out of the job market. They’re open Friday through Sunday for now—pre-order deep-dish, Detroit-style pizza, wings and more for takeout starting Wednesdays at noon (they sell out fast!). You can also support their Go Fund Me page to offer help with the costs of getting the business off the ground.
This Tex Mex spot is know for their Texas BBQ, like 20-hour smoked beef brisket served with pickles and toast. As a tip on your next takeout or delivery order, send $15 via Venmo to @ElCaminoReal with the #communitykitchen to donate a meal. Every time ten meals are donated, the restaurant drops them off to a local organization that gets food to those who need it. Open daily 11am to 10pm for takeout and delivery.
Throughout the pandemic, El Merkury, known for Central American street food like elote, taquitos and churros, has provided hundreds of meals to the Sunday Love Project, an organization that serves 600 to 800 meals a week to unhoused Philadelphians. You can help by donating on El Merkury’s website—before you order their addictive bean and cheese pupusas. Open Monday to Saturday 11am to 8pm, Sunday 12pm to 7pm for takeout, outdoor dining and delivery.
Every week, Fishtown Social—now operating as a wine shop specializing in natural wines—dedicates 100 percent of sales of one draft wine to a different local charity. Past beneficiaries include Girls Rock Philly and Papermill Food Hub. Call or check their website for the week’s special. Open daily Monday–Saturday 12pm to 8pm and Sunday 12pm to 6pm for walk-in shopping, or pre order for pick-up on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Since the pandemic began, Hip City Veg has donated more than 3,000 meals to hospital workers through Give Shake an Assist. They’ve also provided the vegan “fast-food” dishes they’re known for—like maitake mushroom-topped Beyond Burger (pictured above) and sweet potato fries—to homeless shelters, domestic violence centers, and other community spaces through Support + Feed. Open daily for takeout at multiple Philadelphia locations.
Mina’s World hosts the Fridge at 52nd street, offering a community-funded stock of fresh and shelf-stable food for anyone who needs it. They also serve a rotating selection of excellent coffee, pastries and Indian snacks like samosas and pakoras as takeout. Support the café so they can support the important service that the community fridge provides. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 8am to 4pm for takeout only.
Every week, Lost Bread alum Ana Caballero partners with a different Latinx restaurant worker who has lost income due to the pandemic and is unable to collect unemployment. They offer three to four masa-based items like tamales and pupusas and drop off at several spots in the city. All proceeds go straight into the pocket of the week’s featured cook. Follow along on Instagram for weekly sales.
South Philly Barbacoa has become a fundraising space and hub for World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit that offers meals in emergency situations, as well as a founding element of the People’s Kitchen, an arm of the People’s Alliance that is working to radically reorganize our food system. The barbacoa tacos they’re known and loved for are truly just the beginning. Open Saturday and Sunday from 5am until sold out, for takeout only.
Most website pop-ups ask you to sign up for a newsletter, or donate money—not Spot Burger’s. Instead, they’re spreading the word out about free meals: If you have small children and need help, please stop by for a meal. If you lost your job due to the current pandemic, please come by and let us feed you, it says. Owner Josh Kim accepts Venmo donations (@JOSH2821) and uses his own income to supplement the free meal program, which allows customers in need to order creatively topped burgers, and Spot originals like The Jawn, off the regular menu for free. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 11am to 9pm for takeout and delivery.
The name Triple Bottom Brewing refers to the brewery’s triple bottom line philosophy: an equal commitment to people, planet and beer. They work with area nonprofits as a fair chance employer, and are primarily powered by wind energy. Since last summer, they’ve helped support fellow small businesses through the Joy Box—a curated collection of indulgent treats (like ice cream, cheese, and beer) from local makers. Open Wednesday to Friday, 3pm to 6pm and Saturday 12pm to 4pm for takeout and delivery.
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