Saving Restaurants and Feeding Families in a Time of Crisis.

Clay Nutting
5 min readMar 26, 2020


A chef-driven initiative called “Family Meal” aims to help people in need by putting independent restaurants to work.

100 meal kits delivered to Swanston Community Center

The writing was on the wall. Schools were closing, rumors were swirling, anxiety was rising, and reservations were disappearing from the books. Then on Sunday evening, March 15th, Governor Newsom addressed the state and issued mandates that turned the hospitality world upside down. One by one, restaurants started to announce their closure.

The very next day, a small coalition of independent restaurant operators met to brainstorm ways to save their businesses, take care of their employees, and as the need became more apparent, be of service to the community during this extraordinary time.

Our plan, called Family Meal, became an initiative to mobilize independent restaurants as micro-commissaries to create meals for at-risk populations. If funded, this program could help both restaurants and local farmers and purveyors in the farm to fork capital of the world while feeding thousands of residents across the region.

The founding members in Sacramento are Canon, Mulvaney’s, Allora, Camden, and Binchoyaki. We were provided guidance and support from Santana Diaz of UC Davis, and Rabbi David with Fresher Sacramento. We are also working with Nixtaco to launch an initiative in Placer County and Savory Cafe in Yolo.

The model is not necessarily unique. A recent article in the New York Times by Chef José Andrés of World Central Kitchen outlined this very approach as one that could be an answer to creating economic benefit for industries affected by the COVID-19 pandemic while feeding those in need.

Our vision, as we launch this initiative, is to develop an open-source model that can scale exponentially to include more restaurants, more communities, and serve more people in need.

We will continue to outline our findings as we move forward, but here are some basics about the program and our approach, including some ideas on how the program can get funded on a micro and macro level.

To donate, click here.

The Basics

So how does it work? It is quite simple. Restaurants are hired to produce meal kits. In our program, kits are standardized for logistical and economical efficiency. Each kit is designed to feed up to four people, or one person for up to four days. The restaurants are responsible for sourcing their materials from their network of farmers and purveyors. Our restaurant group, which consists of five restaurants, set aside a percentage of revenue per kit for administrative fees and supplies.

The breakdown is as follows:

  • The cost to produce each box is $20, which breaks down to $5 per person fed for a family, or $5 per daily meal for an individual.
  • In our model, $15 per kit will go to the restaurants to cover labor and food costs, reserving $5 for administration, bulk purchasing on supplies such as packaging, and other miscellaneous expenses.
  • As a supplement, a grocery bag with weekly provisions can be added for an additional fee of $10 per bag.

Scale of Benefit

Ideally, to make the model pencil for each participating restaurant, each restaurant would produce a minimum of 500 kits per week. If each kit represents four meals, the number of meals produced per week, per restaurant, is 2,000.

The more funding available, the more restaurants we can involve, the more benefit this program can have.

Scale example of 100 kits per day per restaurant


  1. Crowdfunding: We are asking the community to consider sponsoring a meal. Every $20 raised through this campaign can feed a family in need. A contribution of $500 pays for 25 kits, which can provide up to 100 meals! Support our recently launched campaign on Spotfund here.
  2. Buy One Give One: Each participating restaurant can launch their own mini-initiative to incentivize patrons to give. For example, with every meal purchased, a patron can contribute an additional $20 to underwrite one meal kit for a family. To take it one step further, restaurants can partner with community-based organizations to provide a double benefit of restaurant patronage and programmatic support. For example, Allora partnered with a local church to encourage the congregation to purchase a meal for themselves and one for a community member in need.
  3. Corporate underwriting: The backbone of this program needs underwriting on a large scale. If only our founding five restaurants were to participate, we would need $50,000 per week to meet our objectives. With a minimum 8-week runway, each group of five restaurants would require $400,000, which as a reminder, would provide 80,000 meals over that time.
  4. Federal and State Funding: We are continuing to investigate programs such as P-SNAP as a source of supplemental funding. Because of the independent nature of this program, restrictions may apply.


Some of the groups that we have been working with include:

School Districts

Schools and school districts are the logical partners for meal deployment. They are already feeding children one-two meals per day. They have access to families and generally have storage and transportation covered. We have been in talks with Sacramento City Unified School District to provide meals as soon as funding becomes available. They have a vast need and are having trouble keeping up with demand.


The founding Sacramento restaurants will be working with 11 SHRA complexes to provide meals for 650 quarantined elderly members of our community. We are working with Paratransit to provide transportation.

Community-Based Organizations

Community Centers, Churches, and other non-profits have access to people in need and generally have the volunteers to help with promotion and distribution. Storage and transportation can be a logistical hurdle, especially if following low-touch practices.


We do not have all the answers; however, we have been working day and night on logistics such as procurement, packaging, processing, standardization, transportation, distribution, and building coalitions for funding, activation, and deployment.

Therefore, we will be offering centralized project management resources to anyone interested in the following:

If you are a restaurant that is interested and capable of producing meal kits following the standards that we will outline, please send us a message.

If you are a community-based organization in need of meal kits, please send us a message.

If you have questions about logistics, program development, or anything related to getting an effort off the ground, send us a message.

Even if you would like to go it alone, and are an individual restaurant that would like ideas on how to get your own version of a similar program off the ground, we are here for you.

Please share any thoughts or ideas. We will take as much help as we can get!

To support our crowdfunding effort, click here.

#WeAreFamilyMeal #UnitedSac



Clay Nutting

Clay Nutting owns Canon, a Michelin-rated restaurant in Sacramento, California.