(Photo credit: Emily Caldwell)

A Look Back at the Inspiring Chefs For Feds Movement

The largest government shutdown in U.S. history has received a massive and inspiring response from food and restaurant professionals across more than 33 states, with restaurants popping up by the hour to offer furloughed workers free meals, a glass of wine, and even jobs.

Even as the partial shutdown comes to a (perhaps temporary) halt, the movement to feed struggling federal workers has not. Many restaurants have pledged to continue providing free hot meals this week as furloughed workers await their back pay, which the White House hopes will all arrive by the end of the week.

The D.C.-based nonprofit World Central Kitchen, founded by Nobel-prize-nominated Chef JosĂ© AndrĂ©s, has been the catalyst for restaurants to join the movement – rallying around the #ChefsForFeds hashtag, encouraging restaurants like Tom Colicchio’s Craft to partner with them, and serving as a model for restaurants to follow. AndrĂ©s said WCK will stay open through Friday, at least.

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The #ChefsForFeds movement has spread to more than 133 locations, and now includes restaurants in 33 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico, according to a list by World Central Kitchen. Eater reported that the nonprofit itself served 11,400 free meals to furloughed workers from its D.C. location in one day. And WCK isn’t not just serving regular old food, of course, but dishes like smoked pulled pork with asian mango slaw and quinoa-and-cumin roasted vegetable soup.

World Central Kitchen & Beyond

Meanwhile, whether they officially partnered with WCK or not, restaurants big and small have lent a hand.

McDonald’s gave away 1,500 meals to TSA agents at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, fast-casual chain Sweetgreen announced it would offer a free signature salad nationwide during select hours over the weekend, Starr Restaurant Group joined the movement Friday, as did the Spanish-and-Portuguese restaurant Amilinda in Milwaukee.

For workers struggling to make ends meet, Amilinda’s offer sounds like it will provide some much needed stress-relief: a free Portuguese sandwich (called Francesinha) and a glass of red wine.

As Andres’ group rallies restaurants together, it’s also offering some guidelines on how and what to serve, and potentially some resources. The organization “may be able to help steer volunteers to different locations, or to defray some of the costs for businesses that want to participate but can’t quite afford to,” Nate Mook, the group’s Executive Director, told the Boston Globe

More than Just Meals

The generous spirit hasn’t stopped with free food, as one New York restaurant and catering operator, Dover Group, said they would offer jobs. Its owner, Butch Yamali, told National Restaurant News that “people would rather work,” and it’s all about their integrity. He said that the company employs about 1,000 workers year-round and could add a couple hundred part-time employment opportunities to furloughed employees.  

As the shutdown pauses and perhaps comes to a close, these efforts won’t soon be forgotten. Who knows…we might be right back where we were in a few weeks. Either way, the model pioneered by World Central Kitchen and others looks like one silver lining during a month that most Americans would prefer to forget.

To find restaurants participating in World Central Kitchen’s efforts, click the image below to check out the interactive map on their website.

Chefs For Feds Expands_Across_the_Nation