Food + Culture

Feeding Neighborhood Recovery: Corporate Impact, Delivery-Only Kitchens, & the NBRHD Restaurant Development Program

When the pandemic hit, I was working at a fast-casual restaurant group. We quickly pivoted to feed frontline healthcare workers and people in need. We donated produce and cooked meals; one time a group of our chefs made baby food to donate to a local shelter. So did hundreds of other restaurants. My Instagram feed was image after image of donated meals being eaten by exhausted hospital workers. It was a rare COVID bright spot (especially at the beginning) to see every restaurant doing what they do best for a group that needed it.

Photographer: tetiana.photographer | Source: Shutterstock

This kind of work is corporate purpose at its best. Companies should use their core skills and resources to solve problems. Truthfully, it was somewhat “easy” to respond in the moment. The problem was urgent and personal; we were all experiencing some aspect of the pandemic. There was something very tangible that we could do to help. Plus, chefs live to feed people.

Here we are, almost a year in. I’ve left that company and was lucky enough to join a new one. The pandemic has challenged almost every aspect of our lives, often by laying bare previously invisible parts of our society. We saw the inner workings of supply chains in everything from toilet paper to industrial meat. We shone a spotlight on the essential workers that have always kept this country afloat. Now, we’re keenly aware of which companies make which vaccines and at what temperature they need to be stored. And across it all, from the mortality rates of Black and Hispanic Americans to the jobs lost by women, we saw inequality grow bigger and bigger.

It’s easy to jump at an emergency. It’s harder to use your resources to build systemic change in complicated ecosystems.

— Kerry Steib

From my place of incredible privilege, I keep wondering what we will do with this new knowledge. How will we change our purchasing behavior? How will we continue to champion the essential workers in every industry? Now that we have seen and felt the failures of our systems, how will we rebuild them to be more resilient, more sustainable, more equitable?

Companies must be brave enough to address these issues through their corporate impact programs and their businesses at large. It’s easy to jump at an emergency. It’s harder to use your resources to build systemic change in complicated ecosystems.

Maybe we start where we all are these days—in our neighborhoods.

Local Impact

My favorite neighborhood restaurants have been an Italian place with fresh pasta and a rotating cast of Italian expats, a Moroccan-inspired restaurant that’s as old as I am where I ate tabouli and eggs at the counter, and a hodgepodge café where I could either order a substantial Caesar salad and a spicy Bloody Mary or nurse a cup of coffee for an entire afternoon.

Photographer: Boris Dunand | Source: Unsplash

Few industries have been impacted more by the pandemic than local restaurants. The same people who jumped to feed healthcare workers and people in need are now struggling themselves. It’s estimated 85 percent of local restaurants could go out of business by 2021. Too many already have. People much more eloquent than I am have catalogued the social and economic loss this would mean—from the economic impact on neighborhoods (spoiler: it’s not good) to the conversations we’re no longer having with strangers.

Restaurant delivery has grown by more than 50 percent during the pandemic. But it’s not easy to turn a full-service restaurant into one that’s prepared to ship food across town. Not every dish is going to travel well. Not every person who wants to order will be in the delivery radius. Recently, I really appreciated when a chef steered me away from the roasted eggplant at a long-time favorite restaurant, “It’s never going to get there and be good.”

The NBRHD Restaurant Development Program

Delivery is a different business.

It’s a different experience with different requirements and different margins. So, why do we expect restaurants (that are currently struggling and awaiting government relief) to be able to adapt on their own?

Restaurant owners can apply for the NBRHD Restaurant Development Program at reeftechnology.com/apply

The NBRHD Restaurant Development Program is a $1 million commitment designed to help local restaurants expand their delivery business by providing infrastructure, partnership, and funding. The goal is to provide an additional revenue stream to small restaurants by leveraging REEF’s network of delivery-only kitchens. Participants in the program work together with the REEF team on everything from adapting their menu to creating a dedicated marketing campaign. We’re especially looking to work with BIPOC- and women-owned restaurants.

REEF’s vision is to build neighborhoods that are sustainable and inclusive centers of economic opportunity and community. To achieve that, we’re going to have to put our neighborhood hubs, our logistics network, and our delivery expertise to work for local businesses and underserved citizens. With the NBRHD Restaurant Development Program, we’re not creating a one-off initiative focused on this moment in time. Our goal is longevity, resiliency, and sustainability for local businesses. And we’re just getting started.

Our neighborhoods need local restaurants. Our local restaurants need a combination of government relief, consumer behavior, and action by companies like REEF to make sure they can continue to feed us all—now and long into the future.

Kerry Steib is the head of impact at REEF Technology, building programs to make our neighborhoods more sustainable, inclusive, and supportive. Named to Refinery29’s “Rising Female Tech Stars,” Kerry is a renowned leader in social impact.

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