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These D.C. Chefs and Restaurants Stepped Up for the Community in 2020

D.C. industry experts reflect on members of the hospitality community that helped workers and customers through the coronavirus crisis

Medium Rare prepares Thanksgiving meals for needy
Jacqueline Ramirez, a busser at Medium Rare in Arlington, Virginia, prepares Thanksgiving meals for area seniors and those in need.
Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

Following an Eater tradition, we asked a group of restaurant critics, journalists, bloggers, and — as a new twist this year — a couple industry pros to weigh in on the year in food. Their answers to an annual “Year in Eater” survey will be revealed in several posts this week. Next up, the dining experts weigh in on which local chefs and restaurants stepped up for their communities in 2020.

Takera Gholson, Flights and Foods blogger: Culture Coffee Too is a small, Black-owned coffee shop in the Lamond Riggs neighborhood of D.C. Owner Ms. V [Veronica Cooper] has hosted food giveaways, socially distant art crawls, and pop-ups for local vendors to sell their products. She has continued to work to be a safe space and a resource for the community.

Simone Jacobson, co-owner of Thamee: Erik Bruner-Yang’s Power of 10 initiative really helped us, Cane, and others early on when other philanthropy dollars were redirected and we couldn’t see a clear path forward. Not only did their support contribute to keeping us afloat, they went out of their way to find hungry people previously overlooked, like Asian-American seniors and regular families, and they got them fed. I think in many ways, beyond initiatives like these, it’s actually our local communities who have stepped up for restaurants in our time of need more than anything. I think our diners really deserve a lot of credit. Without them, many of us would be closed, and it’s an odd but beautiful temporary shift in the caretaking loop where they’re serving us as we do everything in our power to keep serving them.

Paola Velez, executive pastry chef for Maydan, Compass Rose, and La Bodega: Rasa, all of Think Food Group, and the Lee initiative.

Tim Carman, Washington Post food columnist: I can’t imagine any place has done more than Thamee, the high-octane Burmese restaurant on H Street NE. The owners (Jocelyn Law-Yone, Simone Jacobson and Eric Wang) have used this moment as an opportunity to support the people who are trying to make the world a better place (or who have felt the sting of injustice): They include, among many others, front-line healthcare workers, farmers of color and the folks who took to the streets during the Black Lives Matter protests. Thamee is a role model for the activist restaurant, and I hope others follow its lead.

Jessica Sidman, Washingtonian food editor: Medium Rare owner Mark Bucher has shown enormous generosity during this pandemic. He orchestrated a massive delivery effort to provide free steak dinners to seniors alone in quarantine and continued to provide the excellent public service of deep-frying people’s Thanksgiving turkeys. And now he’s got this new nonprofit, Feed the Fridge, which stocks fridges in rec centers around the city with free meals prepared by local restaurants.

Ann Limpert, Washingtonian food editor and critic: I’m in awe of what Mark Bucher has pulled off over at Medium Rare. From the very first days of the pandemic, he was getting free meals out to seniors, and he’s since given away thousands more dinners.

Anela Malik, Feed the Malik blogger: Medium Rare has received well-deserved recognition for their efforts to feed the elderly and the communal fridge program. However, there are so many more. I’ve been amazed by the generosity of the restaurant community as operations large and small have stepped up to do what they can.

Lenore Adkins, freelance food writer: The pandemic made the holidays especially painful this year, and many people couldn’t spend them with family. So it was heartening to see Medium Rare cook and deliver free Thanksgiving meals for local seniors who couldn’t be with their loved ones. This service was a continuation of what they did in March when the quarantine first began. Beyond that, owner Mark Bucher launched a GoFundMe campaign to install refrigerators full of free lunches a recreation centers. This is the kind of community service I love to see.

Raman Santra, Barred in DC blogger: Medium Rare. The free meals for elderly and the disadvantaged communities and continuing the turkey fry on Thanksgiving coincided with owner Mark Bucher’s frank transparency on social media early in pandemic about restaurant issues.

Tom Sietsema, Washington Post food critic: I applaud any chef who managed just to stay open during the pandemic. But Jon Krinn saw the crisis as an opportunity to expand and enhance the restaurant experience for his audience at Clarity in Vienna. He turned a parking lot into a memorable dining room and added an outdoor kitchen to what was already a creative venture. His mantra for success became his peers’: “diversify.”

Gabe Hiatt, Eater D.C. editor: Hook Hall, the huge bar and events space in Park View that owner Anna Valero quickly converted into a relief center for restaurant workers. José Andrés and World Central Kitchen, of course. Edward Lee, Knead Hospitality, and the Lee Initiative. Erik Bruner-Yang, for starting the Power of 10 initiative and trying out all kinds of pop-ups and one-night menus at ABC Pony that made me rethink what a restaurant could be. Friends and Family Meal. Jill Tyler (Tail Up Goat), Genevieve Villamora (Bad Saint), the D.C. Hospitality Coalition, and everyone who helped gather resources for workers and owners trying to figure out their next moves early on in the pandemic. Paola Velez, Willa Pelini, and Rob Rubba for organizing Bakers Against Racism. Allison Lane for being a strong voice for Bartenders Against Racism. Andra “AJ” Johnson for starting the Back to Black pop-ups.

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