Photo: FLAG Westchester
New York is the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, and as schools and businesses remain shut down, and healthcare workers continue to do heroic battle with the disease across the state, there’s a quiet army of people doing whatever they can to keep doctors, nurses, first responders, and the rest of us nourished and sustained through food, drinks, and life’s essentials.
We reached out to a New York farm, restaurant, and wine distributor to see how they are adjusting to the “new normal” and helping us do the same in the process.
Gorsky’s Farm in Stillwater, run by Katie and Wayne Gorsky, used to be a fairly straight-forward operation. They had pasture-raised eggs, poultry, pork, and beef for sale in their on-farm market, along with prepared items that Katie made herself in their farm kitchen. They also had a small, but thriving, delivery operation.
Once the pandemic hit, their business changed, seemingly overnight.
“I had knee surgery on March 11th and had given myself 10 days off, but then the world fell apart,” Katie says. “So that turned into two days, and we scaled up overnight.”
She says that her delivery of daily and weekly meal kits, including “bundles” of meat and eggs “exploded,” and that they added several options and expanded their delivery dramatically. (Now they go pretty much everywhere in the Capital Region, not just their local neighborhood.)
Photo: Gorsky's Farm
A typical bundle costs $119 and includes four dinner kits that will set up a family of four for the week. Choose from Taco Night (cooked beef, taco shells, plus all the essentials like salsa, sour cream, chopped veg, cheddar cheese), a Salad Kit, Bacon & Eggs, the Pizza Kit (dough, sauce, mozzarella, a plethora of toppings), Soup & Biscuits or Entrees (a rotating list of options like Chicken Enchiladas, Chicken Tenders, Fettuccine)...plus one large order of desserts. It’s essentially farm-fresh takeout. Parents who just want a one-night break can order for just a night, with prices starting at $25 for Meatball Mondays, which serve 4-6.
While Katie recalls feeling guilty during the first few days watching her business grow 1200% month over month, she quickly got over it, and began to see it as an opportunity to not only help parents who are working and homeschooling their kids, want to avoid drive-thru dinners and yet don’t have time to cook, but also as a way to help fellow farmers, business owners and locals who have lost their jobs.
“I called farmer friends, and began offering theirr produce in our deliveries,” she says. “I also got in touch with a local baker, a florist, and a soap maker and began offering their products as well. In addition to product bundles, we’re offering ‘birthdays in a box’ and other special deliveries. We’re also selling toilet paper, because, well, you know.”
Photo: Gorsky's Farm
But Katie says that actually creating jobs has been the most unexpected silver lining.
“So many of my friends were suddenly out of work,” she says. “I’ve hired two people to help me cook and four delivery drivers. We also have a few part-time packers and general helpers.”
Photo: Gorsky's Farm
Sam’s of Gedney Way, a classic American bistro in White Plains with a catering offshoot called the New York Hospitality Group and pop-up cafés in the White Plains Hospital, Cancer Center and Library, employed dozens upon dozens of people part and full-time across its properties. Married couple Peter and Karen Herrero own the company and run the business, while David Pellon runs the catering operation, as he has for decades. Almost everyone who lives in White Plains and the surrounding area has either been employed by them at some point, has eaten at their restaurant, or has thrown a party catered by them.
“As soon as we learned that restaurants were being shut down in New York, we knew it was going to be bad,” David says. “Peter, Karen, and I quickly realized we were going to have to let essentially everyone go. It was heartbreaking because we knew how many people, and not just them, but their families, their kids, were depending on these paychecks. Everyone except the core team, which includes Joe, our head chef, Dave, our buyer, a few line chefs in the kitchen and Christine, our salesperson, was furloughed initially.”
The restaurant was shut down except for takeout, the catering operation was essentially shuttered except for small pickup orders, the café at the library was closed. David himself worked the register at the hospital café. It was grim. But then something crazy happened.
“We started getting phone calls,” David says. “First, it was the New York Presbyterian hospital. They asked if we could make them 600-900 meals every day, seven days a week. Everything had to be wrapped individually, even fruit. It was not our business model, but of course we were thrilled and dove in.”
Photo: Sam's of Gedney Way
They reorganized the kitchen, rented an RV to park in their lot and took over a catering banquet hall to ensure that there was room to wrap and bag the meals while social distancing was enforced.
“We were able to call people back in,” he says. “About 18 people were rolled back in to work and do deliveries full time. And the phone keeps ringing. We have all of these old clients calling and asking can they donate a $500 breakfast to doctors? So we take them on and we match them, and then the healthcare workers get free coffee hours. It’s amazing to see the generosity of people in Westchester who want to support the doctors and nurses who are really doing God’s work and saving our lives. And we are honored to contribute whatever we can to sustain them too, and bring back some of the staff who have families depending on them.”
THE WINE SERVICE
Doreen Winkler, a New York City-based sommelier and founder of Orange Glou, a wine subscription service focused on hand-picked natural, organic and biodynamic wines, also saw her business model implode as customers refocused their financial energy elsewhere.
Photo: Orange Glou
“When the markets crashed due to the pandemic in early March, people started canceling their subscriptions,” Doreen says, noting that she just launched the business in November. “I got 12 cancellations in one day and started wondering whether this new business would survive.”
Instead of giving up, she rethought her model, and offered to do the deliveries — for free — herself.
“I added single-purchase boxes of 3 and 6 wines and offered free shipping and delivery in Manhattan and Brooklyn to boost sales,” she says. “It was a bit daunting, especially because I established strict rules, wore a mask at all times, used gloves, and opted to not use public transportation. I deliver on foot whenever possible. If it’s too far, I will ship and pay for it myself.”
Photo: Orange Glou
Perhaps surprisingly, she’s actually enjoying herself, because she knows she’s bringing something delicious to people who desperately need an excuse to smile.
“It’s so nice to see how excited people are when they get the boxes, it’s like Christmas! Since the bottles are usually a mystery, there is this element of surprise,” Doreen says. “And it’s also good to meet my customers in person, especially now that our Orange Glou wine bar popups in Manhattan, Brooklyn and L.A., quite frankly a big part of my business model, are on hold.”
So far, business is actually up 30% in March and is set to be up 40% in April.
Will life ever be what it was before this pandemic? Probably not. The grief, heartbreak, anxiety, and generalized blues many are feeling will not miraculously go away when life begins to slowly open up again. In the meantime, all we can do is be kind to each other. Not just doctors, nurses, and first responders, but also farmers, chefs, delivery drivers (and walkers), and cashiers are among those putting their lives on the line to keep us safe, fed, and happy.