Amid Frigid Temperatures, No Energy, and a Pandemic, Companies Rally to Feed Hungry Texans
Paul Lovato had no illusion this year that it would be easier than 2020. But he hadn’t imagined it: 59 hours in a row, starting Wednesday morning, with no electricity in his house, “not even a single second,” he says .
Miraculously, the power was on at his Jambo’s BBQ restaurant in Arlington, Texas, about five miles from Lovato’s home. The grill joint opened as the Triangle Inn in 1931, a hotspot with an upstairs secret poker room that was once favored by Al Capone. So early Tuesday morning, Lovato, Hailing from the South Side of Chicago, he rolled out of bed and jumped into his Ford F-150 SuperCrew to pick up two employees who agreed to come in. Then they were busy smoking the chicken. From 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., they gave away chicken soup and egg noodles to anyone desperate enough to brave the arctic air and impassable streets on foot for a hot meal.
Lovato is one of the few Small business owners who work to feed and protect hungry and cold Texans after an unusual winter storm dropped record 3 to 5 inches of snow on the area that overwhelmed the state’s electricity grid and left more than 2.8 million households without electricity as of Wednesday. While ERCOT, the company that manages the power grid, is struggling to restore power, residents have checked into hotels, stayed with friends who still have power, and relied on government funding for help – all amid a pandemic .
Those fortunate enough to weather the madness are now helping their community, some with support from some of Texas’ best-known small businesses and local nonprofits.
In downtown Austin – a three-hour drive from Arlington – there has been a base effort to offer free meals to those in the community in need, led by Deep Eddy Vodka, the dating app Bumble, and Kendra Scott, the eponymous Jewelry brand take shape. “Things looked a little scary and then you add the power blackout and you just see one community that is so badly needed,” said Jennie Wait, associate field manager of Deep Eddy Vodka, a local distillery.
After a conference call with her field service team that morning where everyone realized they had to do something, Wait, who still had some kind of power, started making calls. That led her to Cara Caulkins, a well-connected media representative in Austin. Over the next 24 hours, Caulkins, along with Chelsea McCullough of PR firm MYLK Collective and content curator Jane Ko, raised funds from interested brands for restaurants that could Open and safely handle the hour-long queues that would inevitably pile up after an announcement on social media. Google Docs and spreadsheets were shared and “we were in constant communication,” says Caulkins. As of Wednesday, she estimated that Deep Eddy Vodka, Bumble, and Kendra Scott had worked with 20 restaurants and more than $ 35,000 were expected in donations by the end of the week.
Entrepreneurs participating in the effort include Kevin Fink, the chef and owner of Hestia, a bustling Austin restaurant known for its fiery local cuisine. On Tuesday, he came across a massive leak at his other popular restaurant, Emmer & Rye, which forced him to clear out his pantry. On Wednesday, six employees, with the help of Bumble and Good Works Austin, a small group of companies, served 600 free hot meals – Wagyu beef chili with corn bread, Thai-style chicken laab with romaine lettuce, and Basque roast cheesecake – to 200 workers from the St. David’s Hospital and 400 customers who went to the restaurant.
“This community has been fantastic for us throughout the pandemic and we are all injured at the moment,” says Fink. With the cold weather and the expected failures, he will do it again on Thursday. “We’re going to do it all over again, hopefully do better and hopefully get back to normal, but who knows?”