I spoke with Alon Shaya about two weeks into the government Covid-19 shutdown of non-essential businesses.
At Safta in Denver, he was juggling trying to figure out how long he could keep furloughed staff on health insurance and organizing to put out as many meals as possible for customers and out-of-work hospitality workers. (Of the 30+ cooks he once had in his kitchen, he now has six cooks rotating and seven FOH doing all ordering, packaging, and delivery. On top of shifting to pickup and delivery, he’s working with the Lee Initiative’s Restaurant Worker’s Relief Program to support Denver’s restaurant workers.)
It’s not the first time Alon has had to stop and regroup — his time in New Orleans taught him how to weather the worst of storms. And so, on top of discussing the practicalities of business loss, menu changes, and supply chains, we tapped into humanity and hope.
Alon wasn’t thinking too far ahead — he hadn’t begun thinking of how he’d reopen and welcome people back in, as we’re just starting to do now. He was thinking about day-to-day survival. And focusing now and then on the good that could keep him going.
Here’s a bit of our conversation that didn’t make into the client’s story.
Chef Alon Shaya
Interview taken March 29, 2020
“Our team showing up to Safta to feed 300 hospitality workers a day – giving them soulful food that will bring them comfort – that has been amazing to see. It’s been amazing to see people throughout the community coming out to support us: buying gift cards, offering help with things like graphic design, sewing face masks and dropping them off. It’s incredible to see the amount of community outreach. It restores my faith in humanity, every time I see people go out of their way to help each other out.
“Going through Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans fifteen years ago – it reminds me a lot of that; a lot of people came out of the woodwork to help out of the goodness in their heart. Even before Coronavirus was part of our daily vocabulary, I always think about the relationships I was able to build in New Orleans post-Katrina; relationships that we’re building right now in Denver and in New Orleans — people that we may have served before or know as regular customers and are now getting a chance to really as people because of the actions that they’re taking. And that that’s been very beautiful.
“The minute that people feel safe to come back out again, I envision the restaurants full and champagne flowing and the music playing and the laughter happening. I think that’s going to happen. I’m very optimistic that this industry will find ways to recover — that people will come back out to support places that they love. I feel for the businesses that won’t be able to make it through this, that will have to throw in the towel. And that’s just horrible to think; that people that have been pouring their heart and soul and dreams into what they do could potentially not be able to recover from this financially. And we may not be able to…”Chef Alon Shaya, March 29, 2020