Nic Patrizi Opens Industry Soup Kitchen in East Austin
Vic and Al’s space is now a community kitchen to address food insecurity
By Alex Detmar,
1:50PM, Sat. Mar. 21, 2020
Many of us have been holding our breath: too anxious to sleep, full of dread even as we know there are so many less privileged, and feeling like our community will be treading water for an indeterminate amount of time.
“When things blow over.” “When business goes back to normal.” “Once the corona is contained.” That's all in the nebulous future, when we hope we can return to the rhythms and patterns that reassuringly defined our lives.
No matter how long we imagine this pause will last – if it even is a pause, not a permanent shift – we Austinites are feeling the urge to act on our concern for others, whether that be making calls to state reps, planning to pool resources with friends, or putting real effort into maintaining social ties via FaceTime. This first iteration of social distancing looks like locals patronizing their favorite eateries offering to-go, artists streaming their art, and spicy meme content circulating. Those, and poking at ideas like political and environmental revolution – how we, on average, are laughably ill-prepared to isolate. At the same time, many locals are choosing to exist more in nature, or highlighting their plans to finally try a new hobby, exercise, or skill that a job had been getting in the way of.
We don’t know what to do, but we sense that we need to get creative to survive. Enter Nic Patrizi, chef and small business owner, who was on track to open a new restaurant concept on Manor Road this week. As local dine-in food and beverage operations were disrupted earlier this week due to city and state-mandated coronavirus precautions, Patrizi identified two feelings – one, that he could not and would not lay off his employees, considering the cold, unceremonious plunge into unemployment that so many industry workers are grappling with right now. And two, that he needed to serve his community rather than retreat or go silent.
“I was always inspired by Nubian Queen Lola’s restaurant [twice-weekly meals provided to Rosewood neighborhood residents]. When she closed down, she was serving a lot of people and doing a lot of good, and I got to thinking ... we could do that with Vic and Al’s, on a day where we’re not open,” said Patrizi.
Terra Stahlbaum, beverage director for Vic and Al’s, had the idea earlier this week to utilize the space as a sort of soup kitchen for affected service industry workers but with heartier food, and open to anybody dealing with hunger or low spirits. “It was a no-brainer,” said Patrizi, who immediately rallied friends to help bring this idea to life on short notice. “Knowing that the 70% of my friends in the industry are out of jobs just felt really awful. We figured, shoot, we have this kitchen space, we were gonna spend all this money on a soft open anyway, let’s go.”
Patrizi’s number one priority is health and safety of staff, guests, and the wider community. Due to the high-volume nature of the Patrizi’s yard, he tried to stay ahead of the curve by limiting capacity and heightening sanitation procedures for staff and guests. Patrizi’s will remain operational (and faster than usual!) as long as to-go food remains legal and advisable for the city of Austin. His employees who have had shifts cut will receive $15/hour for their usual amount of hours, whether part time or full time, for 12+ weeks.
Utilizing some of his current staff to execute this project, launching this afternoon at 2406 Manor Road Suite D, Patrizi (jokingly self-proclaimed Pandemic Tzar of the line) will carefully usher a small number of guests per 15-minute time slot into the newly furnished restaurant, down a food line that allows for a little customization and chatting with cooks and servers over the bar, and out the back kitchen door leading to the parking lot. It is entirely possible for him to serve more people per day – he is rolling out two 2-3 hour chunks of time at first to gauge interest – but Patrizi means to address mental health through this project almost as much as neighborhood food insecurity. “We want people to be coming in and finding some semblance of normalcy, a shared experience ... to show up in their time window, get greeted, feel comfortable and safe, be able to chat with someone who is nice really quickly, and to get great food.”
Patrizi’s food will be quick, but it will also be quality. Having just developed an opening menu for Vic and Al’s, a Cajun concept, he will most likely stick with modest-but-deeply-flavored rice and beans, jambalaya, greens, and more, making sure to offer both a meaty and a vegan option (“maybe cured mushrooms in place of tasso ham?”). Wine by the bottle will be sold down the line to help fund the staff’s shared mission to address worry and hunger in the community. Donations will be accepted, first going to food costs, and possibly to his employees later.
While Patrizi wants an “all hands on deck” feeling to the space, he welcomes serious, potentially longish-term collaborators only – flexible, determined people who want to make things happen quickly. Produce donations, kitchen space, chefly know-how, and operational help would all be useful once this project gets off the ground, he says. “I’m super open to bright ideas, to expansion.” In the meantime, Patrizi hopes that his space will evolve into a hub for old-fashioned, all-purpose networking, mentioning the concept of time banking as an inspiration: bartering our skills, specializations, and talent with our neighbors in order to ensure everyone’s needs are met in a time where money is soon to be scarce for many, or might lose value for a while.
Patrizi emphasizes that the turnout during these first few days will determine how much he scales up production, that anybody feeling iffy about food due to layoffs should sign up to come through, and spread the word. “We’re gonna accept everyone, no problem,” said Patrizi. “If the need is there, we’ll do seven days a week, as long as we need to.” While some people will surely use this strange year to take a stab at their 15 minutes of fame, Patrizi’s service kitchen wants to give any and all Austinites their 15 minutes of societal belonging, as a bold affirmation that they are loved, that we do have more family than we know, and that we’ve got to be kind.
The community kitchen opened this afternoon at Vic and Al’s; initial service times will be for two hours, 11am-1pm, and will remain open "every day until quarantine is up." (Check the website for updated service info.) Please share the link with anyone who needs a free hot meal: https://calendly.com/service-industry-kitchen/free-lunch-pick-up?month=2020-03. Please direct inquiries or donations to firstname.lastname@example.org
[Editor's note: We corrected the service information.]