A meal kit service is combining regionally sourced ingredients with Pittsburgh restaurant recipes — and funds from each kit purchase provide free meals to local restaurant workers.
Allegheny Eats is a pilot project organized by Pittsburgh food system organizations including Sustainable Pittsburgh, CRAFT at Chatham University, 412 Food Rescue and the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. The project has been funded by a grant awarded by the Richard King Mellon foundation.
Consumers can choose weekly from a list of meal kit options from four local restaurants: Bae Bae’s Kitchen, Casa Brasil, The Vandal and Black Radish Kitchen. The list currently includes dishes like barbecue bulgogi beef tacos, pão de queijo sliders, a pasta bake and fried chicken sandwiches. Prices vary depending on the restaurant or meal.
Allegheny Eats guarantees at least 30% of each kit sources ingredients from regional farms and producers like Bitter Ends Garden, Churchview Farm, Jubilee Hilltop Ranch, MADE by Scratch & Co. and Tiny Seed Farm.
Rebecca Bykoski, a program manager with Sustainable Pittsburgh, said Allegheny Eats is designed to help heal some of the damage done to the restaurant industry by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The farmers were losing their revenue streams because restaurants weren’t able to operate as they were. The restaurants were losing their revenue because they had to be closed or restricted. And then workers that were impacted from it.”
According to the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, most restaurant operators do not expect business conditions to improve in the coming months. About 90% of Pennsylvania restaurants expect their sales to decrease from current levels during the next three months.
Although many restaurants added back employees after the initial lockdowns, overall staffing levels remain well below normal. The PRLA found that nearly 60% of restaurants are currently operating at more than 20% below normal staffing levels.
Funds from kits purchased through Allegheny Eats provide free meals to restaurant workers — including unemployed servers, cooks and hosts — on a weekly basis.
The service launched Jan. 11. In its first week, Allegheny Eats sold 43 meal kits to consumers and provided 274 meals to restaurant workers. The meals went to 127 households, according to Bykoski.
“It has been a great experience watching this idea come together,” said Kate Romane, chef owner of Black Radish Kitchen. “We have been able to deliver over 120 meals a week with consistency and that feels like a big win for everyone during these insane times.”
“We’re hoping that this project can continue to grow,” said Bykoski. “To include more restaurants, ensure more [local] products are getting to market and help to feed more people in need.”
“This program is unique because we’re giving food lovers the opportunity to enjoy delicious meals and give back to the community that has provided them with countless culinary adventures and memorable occasions,” said Sustainable Pittsburgh executive director Joylette Portlock in a statement.
“Now consumers have a way to directly thank our industry workers and relieve some of the burden that this crisis has unduly laid on their shoulders — all while giving a boost to our restaurants and helping to secure the food chain for our local farmers.”
Consumers must place their meal kit order by Tuesday each week for pick up Thursday between 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. at the restaurant.
Service industry workers can claim meals on Thursdays for pickup (or delivery from Black Radish Kitchen via 412 Food Rescue) the following Wednesday. For now, the number of meals available for service workers per week is fluid. Any service worker can claim up to two meals per week, first come first served.
Kit meals available for sale will change seasonally, but meals for restaurant workers will change more frequently, according to Bykoski. The project will announce new meal options through its social media channels and website.