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A 'bit of joy in this dark time': Restaurants look to make differences during COVID-19 outbreak

March 25,2020

See full WFAA article by Lauren Zakalik here.

Restaurants across the DFW region are facing some of the toughest conditions they’ve seen in recent years. With mandates from cities and counties to close dine-in service, they’re not only having to shift their business models, but also make serious decisions about staffing—and whether it’s even worth remaining open.

“Probably the worst day was knowing we couldn’t keep all of our staff on through this,” said Kari Crowe Seher, who owns local ice cream shop Melt, which has two locations in Fort Worth and one in Dallas.

But some restaurants and food stores are not only finding ways to make things work; they’re also finding ways to support their staff and the community at large.

Crowe Seher is doing just that. While she tries to keep as many employees on as possible and manages the shop’s new curbside delivery, she also is taking on a new project, meant to bring joy to the health care workers who are working so very hard right now. After seeing a business acquaintance do something similar in Cincinnati, she decided to launch “Happiness For Heroes.”

“Happiness For Heroes” allows customers to purchase discounted scoops of ice cream online, and Melt will “get it into the hands of our health care community safely.”

So far, customers have bought about 500 scoops for health care workers, and it’s growing by the day. Crowe Seher said they’ve gotten ice cream to urgent cares around Fort Worth, as well as employees at Baylor All Saints, Parkland, Texas Health Fort Worth and more.

“A lot of these hospitals are on lockdown, so nurses and doctors are getting in touch with us, and we might drop off a cooler on somebody’s front porch that’s filled with ice cream and dry ice so we aren’t stepping foot [on hospital property] or putting any of our staff members at risk,” Crowe Seher said.

“The comments that are coming out are just so grateful,” she added. “They feel like people are thinking about them.”

Pecan Lodge Barbecue in Dallas is also looking for ways to help the community, even in the face of difficult times in the restaurant industry. Owners Diane and Justin Fourton have decided to launch a brand-new nonprofit called "Dinner Bell Dallas," which, according to their Facebook post, “will provide low cost, high quality meals to individuals and families in need as well as healthcare workers and first responders in our community on the front lines battling the COVID-19 pandemic.”

They are working swiftly to get the nonprofit up and running, but plan to provide “home delivery of meals to support families with one or more parents working as emergency first responders or in the healthcare community directly caring for those suffering from COVID-19,” boxed lunches and catering for entities “tasked with feeding emergency personnel” and “low cost meal options for the general public."

“As a small business owner with literally everything on the line right now, we understand the fear. It is real. And it’s going to get worse, but we’re going to get through it, y’all. This isn’t the time to throw in the towel. The battle just got started,” the owners wrote on Facebook.

Back in Fort Worth, at long-time downtown staple Reata, owner Mike Micallef said he too is doing all he can to keep as many people employed and fed as he can. While some layoffs did have to happen, he said he’s finding work for some of his servers at another of their businesses, a silicone manufacturer, and other servers are being given another opportunity. 

“Over at the food bank, we’ve been basically paying our servers to go work at the food bank, to volunteer over there, because obviously they have the need,” Micallef said.

He said he’s also having employees take home meals to keep their families fed.

At other Fort Worth restaurants and cafes like Hot Box Biscuit Club, which only recently opened, and CRUDE Coffee, both in Fort Worth’s South Main Village, they’ve launched “virtual tip jars,” in which people can find additional ways to help staff who are facing layoffs or cut hours. 

Crowe Seher said finding ways to honor those working hard in our community against COVID-19 is important, in spite of everything else going on. Customers who buy the scoops for health care workers can also leave notes for them, which Crowe Seher includes in the delivery.

“I think it just provides people an opportunity to feel like they get to be a part of doing something that is bringing just a little bit of joy in this dark time,” she said, “and then gives them an opportunity to write actual messages to let people at the front lines read what the community is thinking about them.”

Click here if you would like to participate in Happiness For Heroes. 

Locations Mentioned: Melt Ice Creams, Reata Restaurant