Displaced food service workers and others filed through a Stone Oak parking lot on Friday afternoon picking up free meals-to-go at the Spanish restaurant, Toro Kitchen + Bar.
The meal of chicken and rice paella, beans and spicy chorizo, bread, and a chocolate panna cotta for dessert, came together after Toro’s owners and staff posted a video of themselves dancing to the 2008 song, “We’re All in This Together.”
With thousands of people laid off since restaurants and bars closed March 18 to help stop the spread of coronavirus, the song title has been turned into a hashtag, #WAITT, which Toro used online to alert workers to the free food giveaway.
Toro owner Gerardo De Anda said they posted the video March 23 and challenged followers to upload and share it, promising a free meal for every share.
Then, on Friday afternoon, in the same parking lot where they had danced, the restaurant’s workers donned protective masks and gloves and served 500 meals in to-go containers to people like Zoe Parsons and Raul Torres, who said they are waiting on final paychecks.
“We’re very, very appreciative [for this meal],” said Parsons, a bartender at Doc Browns before being laid off.
For Hector Balbuena, furloughed after six years of working as a manager-server at Cover 3, picking up a meal at Toro was also a chance to get out of his apartment while he waits for unemployment benefits to kick in.
Balbuena greeted his old friend Luciano Cioriari from a safe distance across the parking lot before taking a meal to go.
Ciorciari, founder and CEO of food wholesaler Food Related, has been supporting local food giveaways for those who work in the hospitality industry ever since the pandemic-related shutdowns turned his usually busy loading docks quiet and empty.
“We looked at our situation and we said this is our chance to do the right thing,” Ciorciari said. “In five days, we transformed [our wholesale business] into an online full retail service with free home delivery and curbside pickup. Because that’s what the community needs right now.”
Food Related started out first helping its customers and employees and has managed to keep all of its workers on the job, some of them willingly putting in even longer hours to keep the food going out to those who need it, he said.
“Toro is one of our great customers – they’re wonderful people,” said Ciorciari, who supplied some of the food that Toro chefs prepared. The wholesaler also gave out fresh bread loaves made by Bakery Lorraine, and cheese wedges and nuts packaged for the event by the catering arm of the RK Group.
In the last few weeks, the wholesaler so far has given out over 10,000 pounds of food working with a number of restaurants in San Antonio and Austin as part of a campaign they are calling Love Drop Off. It began at the Italian restaurant Battalion and moves to Pasha Mediterranean Grill this Sunday starting at noon.
“The idea is to really cover every segment and help out anybody that’s in need, and bringing the community together,” Ciorciari said of a plan to provide meals to hardworking and furloughed health care workers as well.
De Anda said Toro will keep the giveaway going weekly with the help of its other sponsors – Mission Restaurant Supply, Sysco, Pernod Ricard, and the American Culinary Federation Texas Chefs Association.
Also starting April 5, Toro will deliver free meals to several area hospitals during the morning and afternoon shifts.
Like many restaurants trying to keep their kitchens going, Toro is providing take-out. This includes all the tapas on its menu, plus pre-made meals, meal kits to cook, and some food staples such as eggs. Toro is also selling wine at 30 to 40 percent off the regular price.