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Metro Vancouver restaurants, food businesses find creative solutions to stay afloat, help people during COVID-19 crisis

Pay-what-you can, freezer meals, meal bundles, and other ways they're keeping people fed
An affordable container of fresh-made vegetable stew is available from the kitchen of The Mackenzie Room and Say Mercy in Vancouver through their new 'Staff Meal' service. Photo by Katie Cross Photography/Say Mercy

As Metro Vancouver restaurateurs are having to make difficult business decisions right now, some are pivoting what they serve and how they serve it to stay afloat and help others in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.

With each day comes more restaurants announcing they have closed their dining rooms to customers; for some this means the doors are closed entirely, but for some, take out and delivery remains an option. For others, this is the first time they are offering take out. And many are getting very creative with how they are addressing not only their limited ability to connect with diners, but also the fact that there is an increasing number of people in Metro Vancouver who are facing unemployment due to COVID-19.

Collective Hospitality, which operates East Vancouver's The Mackenzie Room and Fraser Street's new Say Mercy, closed the doors at both restaurants Monday, however, they didn't stop cooking. 

"We can't touch, but we can stay connected. And we can remain in service to each other, with or without a restaurant," shared the restaurants on social media. "The walls don't define us, ⁣our actions do."

Into the kitchen they went, and they have been producing what's known as "Staff Meal." Staff Meal - or "family meal" - is the name of the meal restaurant employees the world over sit down to eat before dinner service⁣ nightly. It's typically a more casual meal, served family-style, and rarely reflects what's on the restaurant's menu. It's a way to connect and nourish a team before the customers come in.

"We started making STAFF MEAL, because we know our fellow servers and cooks will need to eat and may not have a lot of disposable income," adds The Mackenzie Room and Say Mercy. 

They've come up with affordable meals that you can eat right away, or that can be stashed in the freezer. There are things like a veggie stew, lasagna, grain salads, and even Say Mercy's delicious BBQ Bolognese pasta sauce. The 500ml meals range in price from $5 to $10. Order online starting at 8 a.m., then pick up the same day between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. at Say Mercy. 

What's more, you can also purchase a "suspended stew" - a $5 meal for someone in need. Each order has an automatic add-on fee of $2, which is donated to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank. You can order as many meals as you want in one order with just one $2 donation. Just be certain that if you are ill, or believe you may be ill, have someone else do the pick-up for you.

A similar option is available at Il Posto in Ladner. The family-run pizza and pasta eatery opted to close their dining room this week, but are willing to "get creative" to put together take-out orders. They've also made containers of their housemade bolognese sauce available, which is suitable for freezing. Customers can call them to arrange orders and pick-up.

In fact, there are many Metro Vancouver restaurants that are focusing on meal bundles, from fine dining to fast casual. South Surrey's award-winning Tap Restaurant has started offering a limited quantity of "Chef's Choice" meals for two daily, with the option to add-on a top-notch bottle of wine, all for take out during three available pick-up time slots in the late afternoon and evening. They'll be posting daily menu details in their Instagram stories, or you can call the restaurant directly at 604-536-1954 to get details and order.

For something more casual, Tractor Foods still has their regular grab-and-go options for take-out and delivery, but they've also added family "care package" meal bundles "so people can continue to have access to fresh, healthy meals made from scratch quickly," says the business. You'll find ordering and discounting details on their website.

tractor-foods-family-care-packageTractor Foods has family 'care package' meals available. Photo courtesy Tractor Foods

Other ways that restaurants are flipping their service models including using what had been dine-in space for stocking up with more things people can buy to take homw. Federal Store, the independent small grocer and luncheonette in Vancouver is one such spot that is reconfiguring what they do to meet the needs of the time.

"We’ll be replacing seating with shelving, and bringing in basics, and creating Bake-At-Home versions of some of our favorites like biscuits and cookies. We are also in the process of launching a delivery-by-donation system (it’s important to us to offer this free of charge for those at-risk or not in a financially viable position right now), and hopefully in a couple days we will have made our webstore live so you can order from home and we can just leave your goods on your door step with a wave," explains The Federal Store

Helping those in need is at the forefront of the newly-adopted model of The Rumpus Room, in Vancouver's Mount Pleasant. They've implemented a take-out only policy, but also a "Pay What You Can" option. Orders can be placed directly by calling the restaurant at 604-708-0881 or walking in. The Rumpus Room will also offer $3 draft beers to enjoy (with safe social distancing) if you have to wait to get your order in the restaurant.

"We don’t want this food to go to waste, spread the word for people who may need a meal or two today," says The Rumpus Room.

And other food businesses are adding home delivery for the first time. To Die For, the plant-based business known for their banana bread and other baked goods, will now offer delivery starting Friday, March 20, says business owner Erin Ireland. An ordering tool will go up soon on their site, but we're told they will have banana bread and lemon loaves (by the loaf), as well as double chocolate cookies, peanut butter powerballs, and breakfast cookies (by the dozen). Delivery will be open to Vancouver and North and West Vancouver, with a possible expansion to other areas to come.

Some food businesses are tapping into their supply streams to get customers what they may need. Paragon Tea Room, in Vancouver near the Cambie Bridge, put the call out on Instagram to see if they could place a bulk order with their supplier for things like toilet paper, hand soap, and oat milk, which they would sell to customers without price gouging, simply as a way to help the community who may be struggling to access those and other goods. You can contact Paragon if you are interested in obtaining these goods from them. 

"Let’s get through this together," added Paragon.

Are you a Vancouver restaurant or food business with a creative option for connecting people with food or supplies? Know of a restaurant that's pivoted their model right now in response to the COVID-19 crisis in Metro Vancouver? Please let me know. Email [email protected]