The beloved Bay Area non-profit La Cocina has spent 15 years building a community of female food entrepreneurs, incubating about 125 businesses owned by immigrants and people of color and helping to launch 33 brick-and-mortar locations. In the past two months, however, those businesses, like many around the world, have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 epidemic.
“La Cocina-born businesses have seen sales decline between 80 and 100%,” says Michelle Magat, the incubator’s director of development and communications. “Corporate events and catering have completely ceased, and so we’ve had many entrepreneurs who have made the heartbreaking decision to temporarily close and lay off their staff.”
The hardest part for many of them, she says, isn’t just about the financial impact on their businesses, it’s that they consider their staff like family, and it’s been devastating to be in a position where they’ve had to let them go. “When we talk to them, they’re rarely thinking about themselves,” she says. “Their concerns are mainly focused on the health and welfare of their employees. It’s an incredible community of hard-working and resilient women entrepreneurs.”
Though restaurants and farms are considered “essential businesses” and allowed to remain open during the pandemic, the reality is more complex. For many restaurants, pivoting to a delivery and take-out only model doesn’t make sense, so they’ve closed their doors.
Pineapple Collaborative, a community that connects and celebrates women who love food and hosts at least 20 events every year, also experienced a sudden change when everything outside of the home was cancelled with no end in sight. Those cancellations don’t just affect the company, but all of the other businesses that would have come together to make everything run smoothly. “We are in the midst of trying to figure out our plan B [with plans to launch] digital events … with the same goal: to provide an opportunity for women to express their style, identity, and values through food,” as well as to “foster connection and provide inspiration and education, like we do in our in-person events,” says Ariel Pasternak, Founder and CEO.
On Instagram, Pineapple Collaborative has been posting stories with tips on wine pairings, calls to share what’s in your pantry to get personalized recipe ideas, and live “AMAs” with community leaders. In a time when we’re all so isolated, it’s a fun way for aspiring home chefs (which, if you weren’t before, you likely are now) to connect over the comfort of food and companionship.
Here’s where you come in. There are some easy ways you can give back, many of which come with a heaping side of deliciousness. One of the best ways you can help the La Cocina entrepreneurs is to support those businesses directly, which, for those who live in the Bay Area, may mean ordering a flavorful meal to be delivered or picked up to enjoy at home. Not every restaurant is open for business, but for those that are closed, you can also contribute to their GoFundMe or order a gift card that will supply the business with much-needed cash now and can be used by you later when order is restored to the world. See a list of all of the La Cocina businesses and what they’re offering here. La Cocina is also selling a La Cocina Food Box for anyone with the means to pick it up at its Folsom Street location. Each box contains a week’s worth of fresh and frozen food from 10 La Cocina businesses and 100% of the sales go back to the business. (Quantities are limited, so if you want one, be sure to order when the new menu goes up on Saturdays.)
Pasternak suggests thinking about the businesses you really miss going to. “Which are the places you want to make sure are still standing when this is all over? Start by supporting those places,” she says. “Generally they’ll have a notification on their website or social media about a GoFundMe that they’ve set up for staff or gift cards or merch that you can purchase and that is really helpful.” The Pineapple Collaborative has a “Woman-Powered” collection on Caviar, a popular food delivery platform, that it curates in 10 different major markets, so if you’re in one of those cities, order takeout from one of those restaurants (and be sure to tip your courier well).
Looking for other ways to give back but don’t live in one of the places mentioned? Here are a few other ideas:
- The La Cocina Emergency Relief Fund provides emergency financial assistance to eligible participants for all kinds of expenses, including personal, family, living, and business.
- La Cocina and Pineapple Collaborative both offer useful goods that can be mailed nationwide (and will help keep your pantry stocked).
If you can only do one thing, Pasternak asks that you call your representatives in congress and demand better stimulus terms for restaurants. There are estimates that up to 20% (one in five) of the more than one million restaurants in the United States will permanently shutter, and those that are independently run are far more vulnerable than bigger chains. The CARES Act provides a temporary lifeline, but it’s not enough. Take a minute to call or email; your voice matters — now more than ever.