MILWAUKEE — Some local restaurants are working beyond their own struggles right now, to do whatever they can to help make sure families in need have food on the table this season.
“We live here, we work here, this is our home too, and we want to do whatever we can to make it better,” said Dan Sidner, Co-owner of Black Shoe Hospitality, which includes well-known restaurants MAXIE’S, Blue’s Egg, and Story Hill BKC
Black Shoe Hospitality’s relationship with Hunger Task Force dates back more than ten years, and tens of thousands of dollars in money raised.
“We make our living through selling food and experiences to people who can afford to go out to dine,” Sidner said. “It’s important that we give to people who don’t have that luxury."
At the beginning of the pandemic, Hunger Task Face reciprocated help to Black Shoe Hospitality.
“We began making lunches for Hunger Task Force, that they bought from us, through one of their donors,” Sidner said. “It allowed them to serve people safely and hopefully with better food, and for us, it was money that we really needed in April and May.”
In March, Black Shoe Hospitality had to layoff about 150 people, and decided to close one of its newest restaurants, Blue’s Egg in Shorewood.
“It's one of the most difficult decisions any business owner has to do,” Sidner said. “Trying to figure out how to operate a business when you know there is no profit in the equation, is incredibly challenging.”
Black Shoe Hospitality has been able to start hiring back many of its employees. It has spent thousands of dollars on PPE, table dividers and sanitizing stations in order to stay open safely. The company is also putting more focus on to-go retail areas in some restaurants, and improved website offerings.
Black Shoe Hospitality has continued to raise some money for Hunger Task Force in this tough time, through the sale of some take-home drink kits.
Across town on Milwaukee’s east side, Justin Aprahamian, the chef and owner of Sanford is also trying to come up with new ways to help Hunger Task Force feed families in need.
“It's more important than ever to help, but now we can’t have the parties or events that we normally do to fundraise,” Aprahamian said.
Sanford has earned many accolades as a fine-dining restaurant, including two James Beard Awards. With about 30 employees, it’s a smaller operation in a smaller space. That’s why Aprahamian has decided to remain closed to any in-person dining since March 16th
“We had to change our whole business model,” Aprahamian said. “We are now a carryout restaurant. We’ve had to change our menu to fit that. We’re still very careful about the ingredients and quality of the product, but it’s a whole different look and feel than sitting in the restaurant to enjoy seven courses.”
Now, anyone who orders a carryout from Sanford gets a flyer with information on using Sanford’s web link, to donate any amount to Hunger Task Force. Anyone who does gets entered to win an autographed Davante Adams jersey at the end of December.
“We have loyal people that have been supporting us through this,” Aprahamian said. “They want to go beyond that to help others. Even before we started our virtual food drive, we had people asking what they can do to help, and throwing ideas into the ring on how can we get money to Hunger Task Force.”
Chefs and restaurant owners say it’s a testament to the people who live in southeast Wisconsin, who always seem to step-up when others need it.