When the pandemic ground life to a halt in New York City, restaurateur Luca Di Pietro had to close four of his five restaurants on March 15. After a friend offered to pay for meals offered to pay for meals prepared by Di Pietro’s restaurant to be delivered to a New York City hospital. He immediately wanted to do the same for the hospital that treated his son years earlier.
After that first delivery Di Pietro thought, “if there is such a need from the emergency room workers, maybe this could help save my restaurant while we do something good for the emergency room workers,” he said. Di Pietro reached out to other hospitals in New York City to continue deliveries and shared his plans with friends. From that point forward, orders for hospital workers began to flood in to his restaurant.
To organize the ordering process and manage donations, Di Pietro created Feed the Frontlines NYC, a for-profit initiative, to raise funds for his restaurant, Tarallucci e Vino, as well as other local restaurants and to provide hospital workers in the country’s hardest hit city with free and delicious food. Di Pietro and his team have become known as the “lasagna guys” among New York City’s frontline workers. Di Pietro and his team have helped deliver more than 157,000 meals to healthcare workers amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Supported by generous donations, Feed the Frontlines NYC works with local restaurants to prepare and deliver meals to fellow New Yorkers and has enabled many restaurants to rehire employees who had been laid off.
While most of his restaurants remain closed, he was able to rehire 135 of his own workers. Di Pietro partnered with other restaurants in New York City and lower Westchester County, New York-enabling them to pay their bills and rehire employees as well. In partnership with Di Pietro, the restaurants receive a portion of the donations to make and deliver meals to local hospitals. Each restaurant is given a different amount of money depending on how many meals it can make and deliver each week, Di Pietro says. The restaurant owners coordinate their deliveries with local hospitals and send meals themselves.
Feed the Frontlines has been feeding local hospital workers fighting the pandemic while helping to keep participating restaurants running and their workers employed.“We have … restaurants helping us and delivering food so they can keep their lights on,” Di Pietro says. “It’s morphed into something that I didn’t expect, but I’m very happy to be able to put together supply and demand.”
So far the Feed the Frontlines NYC initiative has raised over $1.26 million to pay for meals, and its success has even inspired others to create their own Feed the Frontlines initiatives in other cities. One of Pietro’s family friends started Feed the Frontlines Marin, that services an enclave in the San Francisco Bay Area. The operations team at Divieto Ristorante started Feed the Frontlines Miami after learning of Di Pietro’s initiative. Shawn Wilson, co-owner of Shed’s BBQ and Viga Eatery, started Feed the Frontlines Boston.
One man’s idea had inspired and enabled others to keep their businesses open while helping show appreciation for frontline workers. The pandemic has greatly changed not only Di Pietro’s business but the whole restaurant industry, perhaps permanently. Di Pietro said “This is keeping the lights on for us and others. Otherwise, there would be no business. And with rent due and salaries, for all the personnel basically living paycheck to paycheck, they’re so happy to come in and work on this because everyone is impacted, and they’re happy to be receiving a full salary. It’s been very humbling and it’s been good.”