Restaurants — Struggling Themselves — Remain Creative Partners In Feeding St. Louis
To an outside observer, it might seem that restaurant owners Joe Jovanovich and Mohammed Qadadeh have enough on their plates just keeping their eateries open. They run the Pat Connolly Tavern and American Falafel, respectively, and are busy finding innovative ways to operate and pay their employees during the challenging year that is 2020.
Yet they’ve also stepped up to address food insecurity among their neighbors in the midst of all that — as have many of their peers in St. Louis’ vibrant, and hard-hit, restaurant industry. For local businesses invested in the area, taking that initiative makes sense, said Jovanovich, whose Dogtown-based tavern recently launched Nourish the Neighborhood, a pay-it-forward meal program.
“My operating assumption in all this is that there’s a great deal more need and hardship out there in the community than most of us are really aware of. … We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg in most of our lives,” he told St Louis on the Air. “But I think as we get further into the winter, we’re going to see further evidence of just how many people are struggling, just how many businesses are struggling.”
Along the Delmar Loop, Qadadeh and other restaurateurs jumped into action last month after St. Louis County instituted new COVID-19 regulations banning indoor dining. They started a program that encourages anyone placing an online order with one of the participating businesses to donate a meal to an essential worker. Qadadeh’s team has also been partnering the past couple of months with the nonprofit Welcome Neighbor STL on meals.
On Thursday’s show, guest host Jonathan Ahl talked with Qadadeh and Jovanovich about how their businesses are managing to survive and keep their staff and patrons safe, all while helping others make it through the pandemic, too.
Qadadeh, who just opened American Falafel in June and is a newcomer to the food scene, credited the strong community he’s found along the Delmar Loop with helping to make that possible thus far.
“When the announcement happened [in November] that the shutdown [of indoor dining in St. Louis County] was going to occur, within 48 hours we banded together,” he said. “And we have now up to 20 restaurants in the Loop participating in the Loop give-back program. Every Sunday or Wednesday we basically collect donations and provide them to frontline workers and hospitals across St. Louis. … And more people are donating, which is fantastic.”
Jovanovich emphasized that donate-a-meal efforts are by no means meant to compete with the continued push to donate funds to the region’s food banks. But, he said, these efforts can augment that safety net — and help keep local businesses operating and people employed at the same time.
“Hopefully, folks [view] a business beyond just the direct service it provides,” Jovanovich added, “whether it’s food or anything else, but also [in terms of] how it helps that neighborhood come together, that sense of community. And one of the great things about the St. Louis restaurant community in particular is how much it creates that sense of place that we feel special about here in St. Louis.”
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.