A new nonprofit led by a group of chefs hopes to help those who need food in Las Vegas. Chefs4Vegas blossomed during the coronavirus pandemic after Justin Franco, a chef who worked at the Tropicana, helped get rid of leftover food that remained in the resort. The state shut down nonessential businesses including casinos and dine-in restaurants in March, and most casinos donated food left in their empty kitchens to charity since no one knew how long they would remain closed.
Jonathan Batista, who runs Your Panadas food truck, thought the food could help him stay in business. Instead, he found out that the resort and other places such as Rich’s Foodservice and food pantries had hundreds of pallets of food. So Batista and his friends decided to donate the food and figure out how to distribute it to those in need.
“In an hour, we fed 367 families with boxes of real food,” he says of the first round of donations in April. Filet mignon, chicken fried steak, fish, shrimp, dairy, hash browns, and more made their way to people in need.
They decided to continue reaching out to food distributors who needed to get rid of product, and since April 22, they’ve partnered companies to donate five-pound boxes of produce, assorted proteins, and more all over the city. Initially, Chefs4Vegas provided drive-by distribution at churches or community centers.
In May, during their fourth food drive, the chefs made doughnuts, boxed 800 pizzas, and portioned out food to hand out at a community center in Vegas, according to Franco, who is the president of the Las Vegas chapter of the American Culinary Federation. Another recent weekend delivered food to Mesquite, which Batista says is under-served when it comes to food for the hungry.
Now Chefs4Vegas is getting about 1,500 boxes a food a day. “We’re distributing it out to different churches and organizations so instead of doing drive-by distribution, one family at a time, we’re giving it to the organization so they can take it out of their facilities,” Batista says. “I think it’s a better game plan because I can help more people at once.”
Batista moved to Las Vegas two years ago to bring his empanadas to the city on a food truck. Your Panadas specializes in the rolled hand pastries stuffed with beef and Spanish chorizo in the New Yorker, sofrito chicken in the Latina, chicken in a chocolate barbecue sauce in the Chocolate Chicken BBQ, and more.
As a kid growing up in Queens, New York, he learned to cook from his grandfather, who immigrated to the United States from Panama. His grandfather was an engineer who helped expand the Panama Canal. “Because he was doing that, he met a lot of sailors from around the world, and he learned how to cook,” Batista says. After his grandmother died when Batista was in sixth grade, his grandfather started cooking for the family.
“For me, it’s more than just food. It’s a tradition.”
While the food truck still parks all over the city with its empanadas, Batista decided to open a ghost kitchen in September to reach more people. Now the ghost kitchen inside Cut & Taste in southeast Las Vegas serves takeout empanadas, Southern Creole food, soups, chicken wings, and meal prep.
He teamed up with Jordon Dunewood, who worked at Robert Irvine’s Public House at the Tropicana, to bring more fare to the kitchen. Chef JD’s Taste Kitchen serves Southern Creole dishes such as Southern-fried chicken wings or a sandwich version, loaded hangover tots with a sunny-side up egg on top, a shrimp po’boy, and his specialty, peach fried chicken.
The ghost kitchen also has Souper Wings with boneless chicken wings, chicken strips, or cauliflower wings with lemon pepper, salt and vinegar, hot barbecue, mango habanero, and more options for sauces. The soup side of the menu features tomato basil, chicken noodle, or coconut carrot.
For now, all three restaurants only offer takeout. Customers can call in to the ghost kitchen near Sunset Road and Eastern Avenue and request a menu to order from their cars.
The ghost kitchen also hosts The Fighting Chef with meal prep, and all the money made from that venture goes back to Chefs4Vegas. For $130 for a week’s worth of meal, customers can pick up menus with curry turkey over angel hair pasta, steamed broccoli and orzo pasta, or Southwest steak over sweet potato mash, for example.
“We are still putting out good food and people are very happy in this neighborhood where there’s just a McDonald’s,” Batista says.
• Chefs4Vegas [Facebook]
• YourPanadas [Instagram]
• Chef JD’s Taste Kitchen [Instagram]
• Souper Wings [Instagram]
• The Fighting Chef [Official Site]