Community Economy

Outside the Louisville restaurant 610 Magnolia, an old red sedan rolled up with a family of five: mom and dad in front, two young girls buckled into the back, and a baby in a car seat snug between them. A volunteer leaned into the driver-side window and asked what they needed.

“Do you need formula, or are you past that stage?” she asked

“We’re past that stage,” the mom answered. “Do you have any milk or anything?”

This family was one of dozens who showed up at 610 Magnolia Tuesday night because someone lost their job to the restaurant and bar closures. Each night, volunteers and workers are gathering at Chef Edward Lee’s restaurant in Old Louisville to offer a hot meal, snacks and supplies for laid-off service industry workers and their families. Funding for the program comes from Maker’s Mark and the Lee Initiative, a nonprofit from Lee that supports restaurant workers.

Maker’s Mark employee Thomas Bolton was on the corner waiving through carloads of laid-off restaurant workers. Bolton said restaurant workers need help right now.

“They don’t have a safety net,” he said. “A lot of these people work shift to shift.”

And live paycheck to paycheck.

Inside, Chef AuCo Lai was volunteering, packing up baked pasta with Italian sausage into to-go boxes, along with a fresh green salad, garlic bread, and dessert.

Lai was supposed to open a new restaurant, Barn 8, along with a group of other chefs and business partners Wednesday. It’s a project years in the making, but now the grand opening has been pushed back indefinitely due to the pandemic. Lai said she’s fortunate to have a rare salaried position, so she’s spending her time helping out those who aren’t so lucky.

“Most of my friends are out of work right now,” Lai said. “And they’re OK for this week. But we’ll see what happens. Rent’s coming up in just two weeks.”

Workers and volunteers with the Lee Initiative and Maker's Mark organize supplies for out-of-work restaurant employees.Jess Clark | wfpl.org

Workers and volunteers with the Lee Initiative and Maker’s Mark organize supplies for out-of-work restaurant employees.

Back in the kitchen, Milkwood chef Kevin Ashworth was manning the pasta machine, piping out fresh rigatoni. It’s not your typical free meal – but Ashworth said it’s what he hopes someone would do for him.

“So of course! Why wouldn’t I make the pasta for them?” Ashworth said.

Like many helping out Tuesday, Ashworth hopes the government will step in soon with some kind of economic relief for his own restaurant, his employees, and his friends.

“We’re waiting for that airline bailout, you know?” he said, referring to the $50 billion dollars U.S. airlines are requesting in financial assistance from Congress.

For now, this group says it will do what it can. Maker’s Mark and the Lee Initiative said they have enough funding to provide meals for 350 families of four, each night, for a month.

Here are the details:

Address: 621 West Magnolia Ave., Louisville, KY 40208

Time: 5:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., 7 nights a week.

Supplies offered: hot meals, shelf-stable food, diapers, wipes, formula, milk, toilet paper, tampons, soap, Tylenol and more.

Workers should come with their pay stubs from their last restaurant job.

More info here.

Rye On Market is also offering food for laid-off restaurant workers; more information is here.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.