Even a ghost kitchen in a ghost town needs supplies.
The restaurant supply chain in New York City continues to improve, even with drastic cuts in business and restrictions in the middle of orders staying at home to curb the spread of the new corona virus. Regarded by the state as having “essential” workers, many industries – hospitals, law enforcement, and restaurants – are exempt from closure, and operators maintain a skeleton crew to make deliveries and pick-up. The entire infrastructure is run by workers who endanger their health every day to ensure the city’s food supply continues to flow nonstop.
To see everyone who continued to work in the food sector when New York became a pandemic center, Eater tracked dishes from a Taiwanese restaurant. Ho food in the East Village – from then on only a group of raw products sat in a warehouse, until the finished food was sent to consumers. Everyone who comes in contact with food has concerns about COVID-19, but throughout the supply chain, people show determination and determination to do what is considered important work by the government.
Almost every ingredient in every dish served in New York City enters the city by truck, whether it’s from a port in New Jersey, a remote warehouse, or loaded on a plane at JFK. The pallets end up at distribution centers such as the Southeast Asian Food Group in Gowanus, Brooklyn. The company, which has been in business since 1988, divides pallets into individual orders to suit the needs of restaurants, kitchens and specialty food stores.
“This is a chain effect,” CEO Kevin Liang said when asked why he kept his food distribution business open during the COVID-19 crisis despite a business downturn. “If we stay open, the restaurant will feel stability and normality, and everyone who orders from restaurants and supermarkets will feel normal.”
However, this is not business as usual in the Southeast Asian Food Group. Where there were 60 employees in a crowded warehouse, now only eight are left.
“All the drivers except maybe two of them stopped. Many people are worried about their health, “said Rodney Allen, a logistics manager who used to manage a team of 30 drivers in the Southeast Asia Food Group. He now makes many of his own shipments.
“I just take every precaution I can,” Allen said. “I’m wearing my mask. I’m wearing gloves. Keep my distance. Just do what needs to be done, and keep working.”
The work of managing an inventory of more than a thousand items in a warehouse and ensuring that orders filled properly fall into stock. “I am the last line of defense for customers before goods are sent to them,” said Peter Caballero, one of two people who run warehouse operations in the Southeast Asia Food Group. This is where a small restaurant like Ho Foods gets its kitchen goods at wholesale prices without having to buy more than what is available in stores.
Caballero lives in Sunset Park with his grandmother, close enough to walk to work and avoid the subway that other frontline food industry workers face every day. The warehouse was also quite isolated and left it with minimal exposure.
“The money kept me going, but I felt I was very important to the community,” Caballero said. “I have people walking here and saying, ‘Hey, my supplier is closed.’ If one person needs us, we will be there for them. “
Staff at networks such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods were among the most visible food workers during the closure of the new coronavirus, but there were also thousands of other retail employees in bodegas, supermarkets, and gourmet food stores throughout the city that made contact with hundreds of people. customers a day, often in close quarters in a narrow alley or face to face at the cashier. They are the most open workers in food service.
“As a store manager, I can’t show fear for my team,” said Aidan Lee, manager for H Mart in the East Village. The store, part of one of the largest supermarket chains in the country, usually serves retail customers who cook at home, but chef and food owner Ho Richard Ho often runs to fill his order shortages with suppliers, as he did this week for Savoy Cabbage.
Because the hordes of New York University students who normally shop at shops have been repatriated, and many of the other affluent East Village residents have moved to coronavirus shelters outside the state, business has declined. But loyal customers continue to come for spices and Asian snacks that are not available elsewhere in the city. Lee feels obliged despite obstacles and risks.
“We will remain open, seven days a week,” he said.
Cook the Lines
According to most accounts, New York City restaurants that remained open during the COVID-19 crisis produced only a fraction of their usual profits – and many restaurant owners say they take out and deliver primarily to keep some of the most needy (and often undocumented) kitchen staff employed.
“[Kitchen workers] is and will always be the backbone of the New York City hospitality industry, “Trevor Liu said. A few years ago, Liu came to the United States from Taiwan with the goal of becoming an actor. But after touring in the kitchen restaurants like Tang and 886 (and some imperfect auditions), he now works for his friend Richard Ho in his eponymous restaurant.
In a very tight kitchen with two other people, Liu prepared a bento box with grilled Savoy cabbage, yakitori mashed sauce on rice, and sweet soybean potatoes, with roasted chicken thighs on top. Thanks to food safety practices which involve blowing through polyurethane glove boxes and now facing masks, line cooks are theoretically among the most suitable for keeping themselves safe from COVID-19. Theoretically.
“I’m not too scared. I know that if I’m smart and safe then I don’t need to be afraid,” Liu said. “I feel that life must go on.”
Although many restaurants rely on third-party delivery workers, many business owners also ship and expose themselves in the same way. Linden Pride from the famous Greenwich Village cocktail bar Dante and Simon Kim from the Michelin-starred Korean barbecue restaurant Cage it has been known to personally roll with food when the queue is supported or there are errors that need to be fixed.
“This is work that someone has to do,” said Eric Sze, head chef and owner of the 886 Taiwanese restaurant in the East Village. “We just started this.”
In a car with business partner Andy Chuang, Sze made mass deliveries not only for 886 but for udon shop Raku and Ho Foods too. Like many owners, both don’t make money during a crisis, but they continue to put themselves at the forefront of exposure to keep their business going.
“Of course there is fear of contracting a virus,” Sze said. “But that also makes me more careful every day.”
The bento boxes provided by Sze for 886, Raku and Ho Foods were not customer orders – they were boxes funded by donations and feed frontline medical workers like Henry Chuang, a surgical technologist at NYU Langone Orthopedic Center. Over the past month, the work has been slightly different.
“This is usually an orthopedic hospital, but because of limited space in New York City hospitals now, we have turned it into an intake of COVID patients,” Chuang said. “There are many patients here now. This is the whole hospital.”
The food is a big encouragement for hospital staff, who according to Chuang work with a tiring shift to treat patients infected with a virus that is not yet widely known. “We usually order from the place, but now all restaurants are closed,” Chuang said. “There is hospital food, which is good too. But, it’s always better to get 886. At least I eat there once a week.”
Sze said that based on the current level of donations, three restaurants can make 270 meals a day and distribute them in three hospitals. The plan is to hit 400 times a day next week.
“New Yorkers as a whole, the whole nation, we will get through this,” Chuang said. “We just have to stay together.”
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