Shepherds braces for second wave, prepares to reopen indoor soup kitchen

a man sitting on a wooden bench: Shepherds of Good Hope exterior dining room.

© Provided by Ottawa Citizen
Shepherds of Good Hope exterior dining room.

The Shepherds of Good Hope will reopen its indoor soup kitchen early in October after six months of serving meals outside.

The move is one of several that the city’s largest homeless shelter is making in preparation for the return of cold weather – and the second wave of COVID-19.

“We’re preparing to bring people back inside, and we’re looking at how we do that safely,” said Deirdre Freiheit, president and chief executive officer of the Shepherds of Good Hope.

a person standing on a sidewalk:  Deirdre Freiheit, the CEO of Shepherd of Good Hope in Ottawa

© Jean Levac
Deirdre Freiheit, the CEO of Shepherd of Good Hope in Ottawa

In March, as COVID-19 spread rapidly in Ottawa, the Shepherds closed its soup kitchen because physical distancing was next to impossible. The Murray Street facility feeds as many as 700 people a day.

A staff parking lot was quickly converted into an open-air soup kitchen with tents and picnic tables. Lines were painted on the ground to direct traffic and keep people two metres apart.

All of the Shepherds other services were similarly remodelled to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The strategy proved successful. Six Shepherds clients contracted COVID-19 in May and June, but they were quickly isolated and the spread was contained without any fatalities.

The new challenge for the shelter is to bring clients back inside this fall without triggering a major outbreak.

Reopening the soup kitchen does not mean going back to the pre-COVID model, Freiheit said. Only 30 people will be allowed into the soup kitchen at any given time so that they can physically distance. Plexiglass barriers have been added to the serving area and to tables, and clients will be asked to wear masks.

The new limit on guests means that meals will take much longer to serve – and will require more volunteers.

“We’re going to be serving meals 12 hours a day and doing the cleaning in between,” said Freiheit.

Extra cleaning staff has been hired to work in the evenings and overnight. The cleaning staff has essentially been doubled, she said, since the advent of COVID-19.

The Shepherds used to ask clients to leave the shelter in the daytime to make it easier to clean. But during COVID-19, with libraries, malls and drop-in centres often closed, the Shepherds has allowed clients to remain in the shelter for all but one hour a day. In that hour, the dorm rooms are scoured.

“Cleaning is one of the big things we’ve been able to do to mitigate the risks of COVID since the homeless can’t physically distance like you and me,” Freiheit said.

Clients are provided with masks and hand sanitizer, while staff members wear full personal protective equipment.

During the summer months, many homeless people camped outside rather than risk staying in a shelter. Freiheit expects that will change as the calendar moves into October and November, which will increase pressure on all the downtown shelters.

“We just can’t have the shelters become full again.

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Muscle Maker Grill’s ‘Ghost Kitchen’ Restaurant Model Is Riding The Wave Of Social Distancing (NASDAQ:GRIL)

There is a whole ecosystem benefiting from social distancing. Muscle Maker Grill (GRIL) could possibly become the poster child for it.

No one anticipated COVID-19 would have turned our way of life upside down, normal routines such as shopping, gathering and eating out had almost become obsolete. The transition to online ordering took a quantum leap over the past 6 months.

It all started with Domino’s (DPZ) when they announced that they were hiring 10,000 workers to keep up with the demand for delivery during the outbreak. As shelter-in-place orders have lifted, sales are recovering and many chains like Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG), McDonald’s (MCD), Yum Brands Inc. (YUM), Starbucks (SBUX), and Shake Shack (SHAK) are trying to get their piece of pie.

These fast food chains are ramping up hiring and investing in mobile ordering and delivery infrastructure, catering to consumers desire to dine at home. Many businesses have struggled during and coming out of mandatory state lockdowns due to the pandemic. But Muscle Maker Grill’s “Ghost Kitchen” strategy may be a survival solution for the declining restaurant industry.

COVID-19 and the Re-Opening Struggle

Covid-19 has thrown a monkey wrench into the mix.

Most restaurants have been struggling to stay afloat and only have options of curbside pick-up and delivery. In order for them to make the same amount of money using the social distancing guidelines, they need more space and that costs more money. Owners have gotten creative and with the help of gazebo and circus style tent canopies along with outdoor tables and chairs, were able to open for business under strict Covid-19 guidelines.

But analysts are particularly concerned about the coming winter, which will eliminate these outdoor seating options for many restaurants, and about the demise of the extra $600 in unemployment benefits that had been available for jobless Americans. Eating is a necessity, but eating out may become a luxury. How long Covid-19 lingers, and the state of the economy will be major factors in shaping the recovering in this sector.

No matter where you look the job market is challenging. The restaurant sector really took a hit during the shutdown, but new stats are optimistically trending higher. Restaurant cooks and managers were some of the most in-demand jobs in June, as fast-food chains like Chipotle and Dunkin’ have been staffing up as sales recover. In mid-July, Chipotle announced that it is hiring 10,000 workers. Positions will include “hourly and salaried management positions as well as crew,” according to the company’s press release. Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc. (DNKN) is also on a hiring spree and looking to add 25,000 people to its workforce, including counter staff and managers, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile Muscle Maker Grill is in expansion mode with a cost-effective new strategy to open “ghost kitchens.” It has also delayed its expansion plans for dine in restaurants. In February they completed an IPO, raising $7.7 million to execute their growth and turnaround strategy.

Their timing couldn’t have been better in regards to raising

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Plant Nation Rides the Ghost-Kitchen Wave

While dine-in options might permanently suffer from the coronavirus pandemic, the ghost-kitchen trend has sprung to life. This is hardly news for food platform C3, which had already championed off-premises concepts before the pandemic. Virtual brand Plant Nation is only the latest addition to the company’s ghost-kitchen artillery, this time targeting regular consumers of the plant-based segment.

C3 conceptualized the idea for Plant Nation last year, but chief culinary officer Martin Heierling says it wasn’t supposed to launch until later in 2020. When the pandemic highlighted such strong demand for healthy delivery options, the brand went online two months earlier than scheduled.

“As soon as [the country] shut down, we really went to work instead of not knowing what to do,” Heierling says. “People right now want healthy options. We must make this available to them.”

The brand started operating out of ghost kitchens on the West Coast, where a high demand for plant-based products already existed. And while early sales confirmed the popularity of vegan and strictly plant-based choices, Heierling didn’t want to label Plant Nation under umbrella terms like “vegan” or “vegetarian,” which carry a stigma for some.

“When you call a vegan out, you just lost the interest of a lot of people that would’ve actually entertained [getting the food],” Heierling says. “When I eat this, it doesn’t matter whether it is vegan or not.”

He is instead interested in forming Plant Nation around tenets of wellness and sustainability, down to its eco-friendly packaging.

The brand’s holistic identity starts from its plant-based menu. It sells tried-and-true bowls and salads to satisfy the quintessential green eater, but it’s less-orthodox options are also grabbing attention. Customers can order plant-based sandwiches and pizza, with pasta offerings on the horizon.

Pizza is perhaps the biggest stronghold for Plant Nation; Heierling calls it the “anchor.” One of its top sellers is the Toscana, a plant-based pizza topped with mozzarella, shiitake mushrooms, and heavy helpings of Impossible Meat. Heierling considers the Toscana’s positive reception a feat, as it demonstrates that consumers can enjoy meat pizzas without the meat.

“From the menu perspective, the pizza segment was a big one, because it’s the easiest introduction to show the brand and then go like, ‘Hey, we’ve got more,’” Heierling says.

But where Plant Nation diverges from other like-minded companies is its flexibility. The brand offers additions like cheese, fish, and chicken if customers choose. These “flexitarian” options cast a wider net, appealing to family-sized groups with the opportunity to eat plant-based in a flexible manner.

Plant Nation prepares its food out of 18 ghost kitchens, mostly concentrated around Los Angeles and San Francisco; C3 has 67 ghost kitchens in total. But Heierling is aware of the different expansion considerations ghost kitchens have compared to your typical brick-and-mortar.

Plant Nation

FOUNDER: Sam Nazarian





“With this model, you can’t just do one-offs because it doesn’t lend itself for oversight and quality assurance,” Heierling says.

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