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The Hales family
The Hales family
Photo by Karli Evans

Miami's Hospitality Community Rallies Around Hospital Staff and First Responders

In Miami and communities around the globe, hospital workers and first responders are fighting COVID-19 on the front lines as the rest of us stay at home to avoid spreading the novel coronavirus.

Though Miami's hospitality community has been hit hard by the pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home orders, local restaurateurs feel compelled to help local hospital workers by keeping them fed.

When Richard Hales was being treated for thyroid cancer and a brain tumor at Jackson Memorial Hospital, he wanted to do something for the people who were helping him. "I had my staff bring like 50 orders of food from Sakaya Kitchen to my floor." He says the mood on the hospital floor changed when the meals were dropped off. "It just made people happy."

Hales, who has temporarily closed three of his restaurants, including Sakaya Kitchen, Society BBQ, and Bird & Bone, is feeding first responders from the kitchen of his Midtown Miami restaurant, Blackbrick.

To help keep the meals coming, he created the Grateful Hospitality Nourishment Fund, which aims to raise $42,000 to feed frontline workers in Miami. Estimating that each meal costs about $7 to prepare, Hales has set a goal of serving 6,000 portions. The fund has raised nearly $9,000 since its launch earlier this week.

So far, Hales and his team have delivered about 500 meals to Jackson Memorial Hospital and a firehouse in Miami Beach. Next, he plans to expand deliveries to hospitals in Homestead. "The people down south need them as well," he says. 

The plan to keep the kitchen at Blackbrick open also helps employ a few of his workers. "Normally we would be closed for lunch over at Blackbrick, but we have some of our servers working to put this order out," Hales says. "The restaurant isn't making any money, but it keeps the machine running." He also intends to bring in workers from Society BBQ and Bird & Bone to vary the menu.

And he says he won't turn away anyone in need of a meal: "The reality is that everyone has lost their jobs. I want to use this fund to help provide a meal to anyone who needs to eat."

Peter Vauthy of Red the Steakhouse in Miami Beach says feeding people in both good times and bad is what being a chef is all about. "Though restaurant owners are at the lowest point ever, we are still helping the community," Vauthy says.

In addition to cooking for takeout orders in South Beach, Vauthy and a skeleton crew have been preparing meals for first responders through Meals for Heroes Miami, organized in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. High-profile restaurants Joe's Stone Crab, Stubborn Seed, and Yardbird Southern Table & Bar are also participating.

So far, Red has delivered meals to a handful of hospitals, the drive-thru coronavirus testing site in Miami Beach, and Miami Beach Fire Station No. 2.

Vauthy still feels the pain of having to lay off most of his employees, an experience he calls the hardest thing he has ever had to do.

"My staff know they can come by and get food and toilet paper," he says. "I'm doing everything I can to stay open and, hopefully, give them their jobs back when this is over."

Chef Ivan (second from right) delivers food to hospital workers.
Chef Ivan (second from right) delivers food to hospital workers.
Photo courtesy of Chef Ivan

Ivan Dorvil has cooked for A-listers like Lenny Kravitz, Sean "Diddy" Combs, and Nicole Kidman. Now the chef and owner of Ivan's Cookhouse in North Miami is partnering with the City of North Miami Beach to provide meals to workers at Jackson North Medical Center. In a press release, Dorvil said he wants to repay the kindnesses healthcare workers at that hospital showed to family members who were treated there.

Other Miami establishments are helping hospital workers and first responders in unique ways:

In Wynwood, the Salty (formerly the Salty Donut) team has launched its Donut Donation campaign, allowing grateful Miamians to order doughnuts in increments of a half-dozen ($22) to be delivered to frontline workers at hospitals and fire stations around Miami. Each doughnut box can be customized with an uplifting message, and every donation entitles the purchaser to one e-gift card for half of the donated amount, plus an e-gift card for half the amount that goes to the healthcare worker along with the doughnut delivery.

Finally, Pucci's Pizza on Biscayne Boulevard is asking customers to "Feed the Firsters" by ordering pizzas to be delivered to any hospital or fire station in Miami or Miami Beach. A $30 minimum donation buys two pies; a five-pie donation costs $75, and ten pies cost $140. For details, call 305-358-8881.

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