Problematic, but also propitious.
During the South Beach Wine & Food Festival earlier this year, Samuelsson hosted a fancy "From Harlem to Overtown Brunch" to give guests a sneak peek at his nearly completed restaurant, located on the site of a former pool hall at 920 NW Second Ave. At the time, a grand opening seemed imminent. Then came the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which threw everything into limbo.
But beginning today at noon, Red Rooster Overtown will open its doors to the community, offering prepackaged meals to Miamians in need. The restaurant will distribute the meals on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from noon until 4 p.m., or until the daily supply runs out. For now, the plan is to distribute food donated from restaurants, including canned drinks, pasta salads, and sandwiches. Social-distancing guidelines will be enforced, and people will be asked to stand on markers placed six feet apart.
The effort is a partnership between Samuelsson's restaurant group, the relief organization Food Rescue US, and World Central Kitchen, chef José Andrés' worldwide nonprofit that mobilizes whenever and wherever disaster strikes.
"We must fight food insecurity during this time of crisis, which is why we are proud to open our brand new Red Rooster Overtown to work with incredible partners like World Central Kitchen and Food Rescue US to safely provide meals in this unprecedented time of need," Samuelsson announced in a press release earlier today.
Red Rooster Overtown partners Michael Simkins and Derek Fleming are also pitching in. In a phone interview, Fleming explains that when Red Rooster Harlem initiated a similar program earlier this month, it seemed logical to use it as a model for Miami. "Marcus and José [Andrés] know each other from the chef community, and they got together and launched a partnership in Harlem," Fleming tells New Times. "It's been a great success. Rooster has become a community outpost, not just for Harlem, but for the entire northern Manhattan community."
Fleming says the effort gained a significant participant when Ellen Schmertz Bowen, who organizes the Miami branch of Food Rescue US, approached him. "She said she was thinking of doing something and suggested we work together. We had similar goals. We became a triumvirate between World Central Kitchen, Red Rooster, and Food Rescue US.
"It took only three days after the initial introduction for Derek to get this organized," reports Bowen, who adds that since she got Food Rescue US–Miami up and running 18 months ago, she has repurposed 300,000 pounds of food. Bowen says the pandemic is proving to be her greatest challenge. "Part of my job is raising money to keep this all going," she notes. "We have a few private donors, and we're looking to foundations. So far no one has returned my call, but we'll keep trying."
Fleming says the aid work helps keep some of the 100 people initially hired to work at Red Rooster employed — and to keep them fed. "Many of the people we hired were from the Overtown community. They were excited to have this opportunity to work in this world-class space — and then coronavirus hit and they were displaced," he says. "This is happening all over Miami. Restaurant workers and service providers have been dislocated. We can at least provide them with a meal they can depend on."
Though Fleming is encouraging Miami's hospitality community to take advantage of the meals, he intends to provide food to Overtown residents and other Miamians going hungry.
"No one will be turned away as long as we have food. We are in Overtown to have a positive impact," Fleming adds. He also plans to expand the program to feed doctors, workers, and first responders at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
"We were always excited to be a beacon in this community. It has such a robust history of social justice and civil rights. We're even more proud that this restaurant will now have a history of giving back. This will always be our mission."
If you are a restaurant or purveyor interested in donating food or other goods, email [email protected] or visit foodrescue.us.