Tucson restaurants feed the community through tough times
Arizona is approaching three weeks of stay at home orders, implemented by Gov. Doug Ducey on March 31. Though the orders given by Ducey and Tucson Mayor Regina Romero three weeks ago certainly projected trouble for "non-essential businesses," some local restaurants have shifted to focus on giving back to the community in these troubling times.
Eegee’s, a Tucson favorite for 49 years, remains open and has been giving back to the Tucson community through their food. Weekly, they have picked a different group of people to honor.
“We really feel like we are a part of the community because we have been here for so long,” Eegee’s Chief Marketing Officer Paul Hemingway said. “We’re your neighbors, and whenever you see your friends or neighbors in trouble, you want to give.”
Hemingway said they started by donating their freshly baked bread to community food banks on account of the sudden shortage of bread in grocery stores. They then chose to recognize grocery store workers by delivering Eegee’s to grocery stores across Tucson.
Mayor Romero also reportedly reached out to Eegee’s and requested that they honor first responders by delivering free watermelon Eegee’s, which the company responded quickly to and implemented on April 11 and 12, according to a tweet by Romero made on April 10.
Hemingway said he thought that Eegee’s would continue this weekly focus effort of supporting their neighbors in Tucson.
“I feel like any business should be driven by a higher purpose than making money,” Hemingway said. “When you’re driven by a higher purpose and you’re trying to give back to the community, you create goodwill with your consumers and it drives the love of your business.”
La Cocina, a restaurant and bar located in downtown Tucson, is among many restaurants that have had to close during this period. However, this did not stop the restaurant from supporting the community.
Restaurant manager Allie Baron said that the staff wanted to find a way to support those in the Tucson community who have lost their jobs in the service industry.
“The service industry is among the hardest hit because of this in terms of being out of work and having very few resources,” Baron said. “A lot of service industry workers live paycheck to paycheck and a lot of them don’t have health insurance. It’s an especially stressful and scary time because they depend on being in front of people to make their money.”
La Cocina is offering free meals for pick up at their restaurant Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 2 to 4 p.m. According to Baron, they hand out about 80 meals every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
According to La Concina's website, the restaurant did this because "The workers who feed us need to be fed, too. Especially now."
In addition to free meals, Baron said La Cocina set up an online fund through their website to keep the food going as long as possible. They have also made donations to other organizations like the International Rescue Committee and Paisanos Unidos. According to their website, they have partnered with the People's Defense Initiative to "extend and expand our reach to help even more people in our Tucson family."
Baron said that as a restaurant, giving out free meals was the best way to help the community because they have access to food and a commercial kitchen and can make a lot of food to feed those in need.
Helping the community isn’t something that is new to them, Baron explained. She said that La Cocina has a nonprofit night every Tuesday called "Tuesdays for Tucson" and gives a percentage of their earnings that night to different nonprofit organizations.
“This is really just a way for us to stay connected and give back to a community that gives so much to us,” Baron said.
Sammy’s Mexican Grill
Sammy’s Mexican Grill, located north of Tucson, is also using their resources to help those in need.
The restaurant’s owner, Jorge Rivas, said they are offering free meals to anyone who has lost their job due to the coronavirus.
“I remember when I worked for other people, you wait for many paychecks to pay for your expenses, I know how it is,” Rivas said. “Sometimes the money isn’t right there and then when you need it.”
Rivas said that they are still open, and that they are not struggling as much as others due to the fact that their business was mainly through pick up and drive-through orders. Due to this, they are using their resources to help those who do not have income.
“We are happy to help, I’m sure there’s a lot of people out there who are in more need than we are,” Rivas said. “Either way, if someone can benefit from what we are providing, we are happy to do it.”
He knows what it is like to worry about your family and whether or not they are fed and healthy. He said that for those out of work, it would be very difficult to feed their families with no money coming in.
Rivas recalled a woman going into the restaurant to pick up food for herself and her family of six waiting at home for her. He said that they are offering anything off their menu and that people may return as many times as they need.
“My thought was that if I could help others a little bit, I will," Rivas said. “For us as business owners of a small restaurant, I think it is the right thing to do.”
Follow Isabella Barron on Twitter