The Austin Chronicle

Austin Shift Meal Serves Meals to Hospitality Folks

By Irielle Wesley, June 9, 2020, 12:12pm, On the Range

It’s been a very difficult first half of 2020, and hospitality industry folks have been hit particularly hard. One nonprofit organization, Austin Shift Meal, aims to bridge the food gap for restaurant employees by serving meals to the unemployed or furloughed members of the hospitality and service industry.

Inspired by Houston Shift Meal, and joined by Austin Food and Wine Alliance, Austin Shift Meal receives donations and sponsorships that solely fund the organization to pay local restaurants to prepare dishes and individually pack them to be served. With $250 the program can pay a restaurant to create around 50 to 75 meals, and they partner with local vendors and restaurants like Aviary Wine Kitchen and Minamoto Foods to provide professionally cooked meals to participants.

"I used to work in the restaurant business and that was something I would look forward to a lot of time – that meal before our shift – before we went on the floor that the chef would make,” said organizer Mandi Nelson. “A lot of times it would be really cool stuff and you could tell when the chef got into it and wanted to take care of us. Those unemployed furlough workers are now all of sudden without that meal that they depended on once or twice a day."

COVID-19’s ability to expose systemic problems has also targeted the restaurant business. Nelson said, “I think there’s been a highlight on our industry, and how we don’t take care of the people in the industry, and how that needs to change.”

The restaurants and sponsors partnering with the nonprofit and volunteering their time and resources are some of Austin’s favorites: Austin Eastciders, Karbach, The Steeping Room, Bufalina, Pink Avocado, Sala and Betty, Hanks, and others. The dishes include things like grilled salmon fish tacos on a corn tortilla with pineapple pico de gallo from Minamoto or paella from Barlata.

Austin Shift Meal program started May 5 and has since sold out of meals every week; they’ve also sold bags that not only include meals, but snacks and beverages as well. Nelson is expecting even more local eateries and vendors to team up with the program, and she’s working from a list of friends and industry contacts to cook up more food and support. She, too, is familiar with the loss of work from COVID-19: At the end of the March, Nelson was laid off from a local wine company due to pandemic-related financial damages.

Nelson is using her time to make the Austin Shift Meal program work for the community, which is no small feat. As soon as the sign-up application goes live, the meals are claimed, but Nelson hopes to receive more donations and sponsorships to provide more meals for future events.

Along with the high-quality food, participants are also able to experience a taste of the same hospitality they would usually provide to customers and the community. The events are run by volunteers who hand out the food bags to participants. Participants drive up, give their name, and leave with some of the best food in town. Nelson said she and the volunteers have a good time serving the community, and bond with each other while they work wearing facial masks and a love of food on their sleeves.

The pandemic won’t, hopefully, last forever but Nelson hopes the need to serve the hospitality industry won’t go away with the virus. Going to restaurants and having a dining experience is part of what makes life in Austin special. “We look forward to those experiences – going out and being taken care of and treated – and we miss that.”

For more information, or to sign up, please check out Austin Shift Meal on social media and

[Editor's note: We corrected the name Austin Food & Wine Alliance, and added their website.]

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