Sick people need soup. That’s the principle behind local chef Eric Korn’s audacious idea of making a million gallons of the nourishing food. But in the current pandemic, sick people aren’t the only people suffering.When the restaurant industry shut down in a matter of days, hospitality workers were left scrambling for income which leads to food insecurity. That’s why Korn’s bold idea to make a million gallons of soup and give to unemployed service people was born.
“I’m not much of a current events person, but I saw that this was affecting the restaurant industry with social distancing and closures,” said Korn, head chef at Monteverde at Oldstone for the past three years.
On March 15 he read an article detailing the mathematical projections about the spread of the virus and knew he had to do something. He reached out to John Van Dekker with what he thought was a crazy idea, knowing he could trust Van Dekker to look critically at the idea and tell him to drop it or run with it. He had worked with Van Dekker on other projects.
Van Dekker liked what he heard and his ad agency, Enormous Creative, got behind the ambitious project. Practically overnight Million Gallons (Chefs Helping Hospitality Industry Through Crisis) was born. Korn wrote in a blog post on www.milliongallons.com that he was watching an economic bomb exploding in front of him and knew that chefs would be concerned about their teams. He also knew that chefs had walk in boxes full of produce that was going to waste if not used. That’s when he committed to making 1,000 gallons of soup. Other chefs he knew followed his lead. The comprehensive website connects chefs looking to participate, corporations looking to contribute and service people looking to know where to go to pick up soup.
Korn and Van Dekker met with Louie Lanza of Hudson Hospitality Group who owns six restaurants in Peekskill and Demetri Vourliotis of Table 9 and came up with a plan involving logistics with local food pantries, local freezer facilities, warehouses and bus companies. They created a Go Fund Me page through a non-profit and Lanza’s Family Foundation committed $100,000 to the effort. They reached out to food industry connections including the James Beard Foundation, got chefs to commit to cooking soups and scheduled a press conference.
The first distribution was Sunday, Mar. 22 from Factoria at Charles Point. Another is scheduled for tomorrow for hospitality and food workers from 12-4 at Factoria. About 100 cars came through and people were given soups in quart containers along with food packs from Feeding Westchester. A lot of chicken soup was distributed along with spinach and lentil and minestrone said Korn.
To practice physical distancing, people are asked to open their trunks and food will be placed inside. If they can’t open their trunks the food is placed outside their vehicle, for them to pick up, without contact or being in close proximity. About 3 or 4 people do the distribution at safe distances.
Another website created in Peekskill this week to address the economic disaster for restaurants owners and those who staff them is run by Fred Dennstedt who has been posting the Peekskill Weekender on Instagram and Facebook for the past three years as the Peekskill Ex_Urbanist.
Dennstedt said he’s wanted to do a website since he created the Weekender and was slowly working on it for the past few months. “But when the coronavirus happened, it was the crisis that forced me to finish.” He knows a website (www.exurbanist.com) is more accessible for people than the social media platforms and wanted a way to help local businesses. Dennstedt, who creates websites for his livelihood, uses the same folksy style on his website that has garnered him more than 2,000 followers on Instagram. His compelling images from around Peekskill are juxtapositioned with ways people can help local businesses hard hit by the societal standstill. In conjunction with the chamber of commerce and the business improvement district he lists what restaurants are open for take-out and curbside delivery.
He created categories for ways to support local businesses along with listings of GoFundMe campaigns for restaurants and businesses that are shuttered.
He recalls a conversation his brother-in-law had with him about a week ago, asking if he had free time because he’s not compiling the Weekender since all events and venues are closed. “I told him I pivoted to creating a website where people can find out how to help support the local business so when the restrictions are lifted, we have places to go to.”
Recognizing the difficulty of supporting local businesses while protecting one’s own financial security poses a tough dilemma. But Dennstedt makes the case that if the small businesses can’t weather this storm, the economic fallout in Peekskill will remain far after the coronavirus is gone. “The restaurants and bars have played a huge role in Peekskill’s recent revival, they’re part of what attracted a lot of us exurbanists to Peekskill in the first place,” said Dennstedt.
This time of year is also when lots of bars and restaurants start to re-coup earnings from the quiet, lean winter months. Taking a hit now truly sets businesses back. One area restaurant would’ve easily done $20,000 worth of business last Saturday when it was a sunny, early spring day, but that number wasn’t nearly reached with just to-go business.
Dennstedt and his exurbanist.com website looks at support of businesses now as an investment in the survival of Peekskill. “This crisis will end, but we can help define how things look on the other side. Let’s make sure the Peekskill we fell in love with, the community, the excitement, the innovation- remains.”