Following an Eater tradition, we asked a group of restaurant critics, journalists, bloggers, and friends of the site to weigh in on the year in food. Their answers to the annual Year in Eater survey will be revealed in several posts. Next up, the dining experts talk about restaurants that helped the community in 2020.
Was there one restaurant in particular that you felt really stepped up for your local community?
Krista Diamond, freelance writer at Eater Vegas: Graffiti Bao has been a shining example of being there for the Las Vegas community. They’ve offered free meals to kids and discounts to service-industry professionals.
Rob Kachelriess, Las Vegas writer at Thrillist: It’s hard to ignore Elizabeth Blau’s work with Delivering with Dignity, coordinating with restaurants like Graffiti Bao, Valencian Gold, and her own Honey Salt to deliver meals to thousands in need. She was also vocal in calling out the Nevada government for not doing enough to help locally owned restaurants.
Sonja Swanson, food and culture writer: There are so many: 7th & Carson partnering with nonprofits to feed the homeless; Ghost Unit Kitchen pivoting to cook for folks in need with Chefs4Vegas; Aloha Kitchen passing out bags of food to hungry families right at the beginning of the pandemic. I also want to give a shout out to my friend, food writer Kim Foster, who is a beacon of generosity. Kim started a food pantry in front of her home downtown, and most importantly, she talks to the people who pick up food, asks them what they need, and coordinates donations to meet those needs. Feeding the hungry is one of the most important food stories of 2020, and I’m in awe of the people who make it happen every day.
Louiie Victa, Eater Vegas photographer and co-host of Two Sharp Chefs and a Microphone: I’ve had a chance to work for different charitable organizations during COVID, and among the early adopters are Honey Salt, Graffiti Bao, and Valencian Gold, who all work under Delivering with Dignity. Amidst the closure, these three restaurants remained open providing meals to high risk individuals and families while keeping their staff employed. It was very inspiring for me to see these restaurants come together and help the community and at the same time help their own operations. 24 Meals is a great concept too, and while it’s not driven by a restaurant/s, it’s 100 percent chef powered. So while a good majority of Las Vegas chefs were unemployed during the closure, 24 Meals gave us chefs a chance to utilize our skills while giving back to the community. And that feels great in general to be able to help other people while staying in the comfort of your own home.
Lorraine Moss, co-host of Two Sharp Chefs and a Microphone: Graffiti Bao — Chef Marc Marrone jumped in to help Delivering With Dignity serve hundreds of meals to home-bound families. He also offered discounts to hospitality workers on an honor system. Marc supported his employees at every turn, keeping their jobs and paychecks while rooting for other hospitality workers throughout the community.
Nina King, Las Vegas Magazine managing editor: Sparrow & Wolf’s cocktail challenge inspired bartenders across the country and the world. I thought that was incredibly cool, and an excellent way to feed first responders, as many as they were able to.
Melinda Sheckells, editor OffTheStrip.com, OnTheStrip.com: Elizabeth Blau’s efforts with Dining with Dignity have made a profound impact on our community, as well as the 7th & Carson $5 Meal Program and their contributions to a number of different groups that help with food insecurity.
Diana Edelman, founder Vegans, Baby: Graffiti Bao and chef Marc Marrone. He and his team were making meals and donating them every day for people in need during the shutdown.
Scott Roeben, Vital Vegas: The example that springs to mind was Esther’s Kitchen. They really went overboard trying to help employees and their families, even to the point of making and distributing bread and other products to those who needed it. If you’ve ever had the bread at Esther’s Kitchen, you know how great a move that was, it’s amazing. I think they also deserve props because when a couple of team members tested positive for COVID-19, they closed for several days. That’s putting employees and the community first, as some restaurants have had a substantial number of cases and just stayed open throughout. Chef James Trees doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk. I wish it were an Asian restaurant because then I could’ve said “woked the wok.” Oh, well.
Melanie Lee, Eater Vegas: I don’t think I can pick just one- I know a lot of restaurants started offering huge discounts to laid-off employees and bringing food to the hospitals. A lot of places are still offering specials for first responders and essential workers too. It’s really nice to see these places step up for our health-care workers especially.
Bob Barnes, editor of The Las Vegas Food & Beverage Professional and Las Vegas writer for Gayot: Honey Salt in dedicating so much of their time providing meals to feed those in need through the Dining with Dignity program.
Philip Tzeng, food blogger at Las Vegas Fill: Mike Ross and his team at Jessie Rae’s BBQ have stepped it up all year doing their best to help the community. From offering 25 percent off people’s orders if they simply brought in a receipt from a locally run business when lockdown just started to food donations to hospitals to offering citywide delivery on their own (not easy at all, ask any restaurant) to hosting blood drives and also doing a lot of unsung things like feeding families who have gone through the difficulties of coronavirus. I applaud all they have done!
Susan Stapleton, editor of Eater Vegas: Everyone covered so many of the big ones. I’m amazed that despite the difficulties of running a business at reduced occupancy and with strict mandates in place, restaurants found ways to give back to the community whether with free food for first responders and health-care workers or coming up with ways to feed the hungry. Those looking for a way to help can check out these resources. Restaurants that added groceries early in the pandemic should also get a shout out.
• All Year in Eater Coverage [ELV]