By Meda Kessler
Every Sunday, they gather. It’s not for church, but this small group of chefs, restaurant workers and others are on a mission to help those in need.
Kevin Martinez, chef at Fort Worth’s Tokyo Cafe, is always the first to arrive to set up the tent. A core group of volunteers trickle in; sometimes others in the food industry stop by, too, to help or donate food to what’s called the Family Meal Initiative.
At restaurants, the “family meal” is one cooked by a staff member — not necessarily a chef — for the employees before the start of service. Martinez’s original idea was to feed fellow service industry members when the pandemic hit this past spring, but he quickly expanded the reach to anyone who needed a meal. People can ask for more than one bag, and there are no questions asked. “People need to eat, and I wanted to make sure they got more than a cold sandwich and some cookies,” says Martinez. “It’s just the right thing to do.”
The list of those who have donated food and/or time is a long one and includes noted Fort Worth chefs and restaurants such as Jon Bonnell of Bonnell’s, Waters and Buffalo Bros; Juan Rodriguez of Magdalena’s and Panther City BBQ.
Mibo Fresh Foods has provided containers of cut fruit from day one. Acre Distilling, also an early supporter, has supplied not only a tent but hand sanitizer (owner Tony Formby also has contributed to the group’s bank account with proceeds from a portion of sanitizer sales). David Nguyen-Poe, a longtime server at Tokyo Cafe, donates food and time to represent Club Reflection, where his husband works. And, of course, Tokyo Cafe owners Jarry and Mary Ho have been backers, too. When needed, Martinez will call in favors to get supplies.
With such talented support, the paper bags (donated by Central Market/H-E-B) are filled with a diverse selection of good eats.
While the Family Meal Initiative rotated locations originally — and has missed only two Sundays due to Monday holidays — they now can be found regularly at Nonna Tata on Fort Worth’s Magnolia Avenue. It’s a corner spot, providing easy access, plus there’s a covered patio that gives volunteers protection from the elements and tables for filling bags. Neighboring Great Harvest Bread Co. contributes loaves of bread.
“We now have regulars who show up most Sundays,” says Martinez. “We recognize their cars and their little dogs that ride along with them.”
The group typically packs 100 bags and stays from noon until 2 p.m., or until they run out. They spread the word about schedule changes, availability and other information via social media.
With the new year approaching, Martinez says they plan to continue being there each Sunday. “It’s what we do. No one needs to go hungry during the holidays.”