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Furlough Kitchen: Local restaurant group launches ‘popup nonprofit’ with free meals for laid-off hospitality workers

Front Burner Restaurants is collaborating with CitySquare and Vestals Catering.

Beginning March 25, laid-off hospitality workers can receive a free pickup meal each day Monday through Saturday at Furlough Kitchen — a collaboration with Front Burner Restaurants, Vestals Catering in East Dallas, and CitySquare, a local nonprofit dedicated to ameliorating the effects of poverty.

Front Burner Restaurants is the restaurant innovation lab behind concepts such as Whiskey Cake, Legacy Hall, Mexican Sugar, Sixty Vines and others. CEO Randy DeWitt says his restaurants are taking care of their own employees “pretty well.” He’s making sure all Front Burner employees who had benefits before being laid off maintain their coverage without having to file for a COBRA plan, and all restaurants in the group have already been providing one free meal a day to all employees who’ve been furloughed. So when he saw other restaurants that were laying their employees off with no plan to help them, DeWitt says, “I couldn’t really accept that.”

Last Friday, when the trajectory of the restaurant industry became clear, DeWitt met with Jordan Swim, the founder of Vestals Catering who is now the executive in charge of catering for Front Burner Restaurants. Swim quickly made arrangements with CitySquare to secure a 501(c)(3) status for Furlough Kitchen. DeWitt says he and Swim, together with DeWitt’s two daughters who are home from college, have worked all weekend to launch the company, and just five days later they are prepared to offer 1,000 high-quality ready-to-eat meals per day to anyone in the hospitality industry, regardless of their former employer.

Furlough Kitchen feeds laid-off hospitality workers.
Furlough Kitchen feeds laid-off hospitality workers.(Furlough Kitchen)

Furlough Kitchen is prepared to provide meals for at least 90 days, but they are seeking partnerships from hospitality leaders and donations from any interested company or individual. DeWitt says donations “will foster hope for the future of our industry and give back to this industry’s reputation for giving everything it’s got.” Among the first to donate was a landlord of a Front Burner restaurant who gave $15,000. Donations can be made at furloughkitchen.org or here.

Lunch-friendly meals will be served from from noon to 5 p.m. at Vestals Catering, the new home of Furlough Kitchen, located at 4318 Eastside Ave. in Dallas. Meals are served drive-up style with a curbside handoff, and personnel delivering lunch boxes will be wearing gloves.

Even though the best of his restaurants are only operating at 30% of usual daily sales, DeWitt says, to-go meals are the only chance for most restaurants to survive this time, and they are doing everything possible to keep them operating on a safe, contact-free basis.

Those seeking meals are asked to present a pay stub or a uniform with a logo on it, but really, DeWitt says, “we’re going by the honor system.”

Amanda Albee

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