José Andrés’s charity is bringing its humanitarian efforts to Chicago to help health care workers combating COVID-19. The D.C.-based celebrity chef is partnering with Chicago chef Lamar Moore and Fifty/50 Restaurant Group to provide meals to various hospitals in the city. The campaign launched last week in conjunction with Andrés’s World Central Kitchen.
The effort not only feeds health care workers who are overtaxed during the pandemic, but it also gives Fifty/50, the owners of restaurants like Roots Handmade Pizza, Portsmith, and Utopian Tailgate, a chance to employ workers the company furloughed. The pandemic has slowed business thanks to the state’s stay-at-home order which closed all non-essential businesses. Restaurants can continue to offer delivery and takeout, but dine-in operations have ceased. The order is slated to continue through April, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday told reporters she believes it will be extended into May.
Andrés has a prolific reputation on the world’s stage and earned a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize. World Central Kitchen has assisted hurricane victims in Puerto Rico by donating more than 3 million meals. More recently, the WCK fed quarantined cruise passengers in California. Andrés has also closed many of his restaurants and transformed them to community kitchens.
WCK officials have started its Chefs For America initiative to donate food and help restaurant workers during the outbreak. That’s why it contacted Moore (Currency Exchange Cafe, the Smoke Daddy, Swill Inn), who is coming off his Food Network win last week when he won the first season of Vegas Chef Prizefight. The prize is the executive chef job at an upcoming steakhouse off the Vegas Strip. World Central Kitchen contacted him about bringing the charity to Chicago. Though Moore hasn’t met Andrés, he jumped at the chance to work with his organization.
“Obviously I said yes,” Moore says, describing Andrés as “one of the top chefs in the world.”
The team dropped off 100 meals last week at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Streeterville. Moore and his crew made the meals at Roots Pizza’s Old Town location. On Thursday, Moore and Fifty/50 plan to drop off 300 meals at UIC Medical Center. Fifty/50 co-founder Greg Mohr said his company wants to do meal drops two to three days a week. Moore approached Fifty/50 with the opportunity.
“This is the pinnacle of the charity work in our industry,” Mohr says.
For Fifty/50, this is the latest branch of its charity efforts. The company is already partnering with chef Edward Lee’s charity in his nationwide effort. Another project with Frontline Foods delivers meals to National Guard members. That brings Fifty/50’s efforts to about 1,200 donated meals a day, according to a news release. The company is using various restaurants to support different charities. “We’ve got the space,” says Mohr.
While some restaurants have stopped delivery and takeout, preferring to pause operations during the pandemic, Mohr says his team want to help the needy and employ workers. Fifty/50 hopes to continue its charity efforts even after the public health crisis. The group has found a new calling, Mohr says.
“There are always people in need somewhere and we’ve seen it up close,” he adds. “It kind of changes you as a human.”
Andrés has restaurants across the country. He opened his first in Chicago, Beefsteak, last year in Streeterville. But Andrés is known for more than fast casual. His first full-service restaurant in Chicago, Jaleo — a tapas restaurant — was to open this year in River North. Jaleo also has locations in D.C. and Las Vegas. Andrés is also planning an ambitious original project with multiple restaurants in partnership with Gibsons, the company behind the well known steakhouses.