Three Los Angeles area restaurants, Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, Prime Pizza, and Sebastian’s Mediterranean Cuisine, are providing free food to students who rely on school meal programs for daily sustenance. With school closures throughout the city due to coronavirus measures, these restaurants want to make sure that vulnerable students and their families don’t go hungry even with the 60 grab-and-go meal distribution centers established by Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) across the county.
“The inspiration behind this program was based on speaking with our employees who are either facing this very issue or know families that are,” shares Raehan Qureshi, owner of Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken. The free meal program, which was originally only offered at Gus’s Crenshaw Boulevard location, has since expanded to all of the chain’s four Southern California restaurants. “Since we started spreading the word, we have been able to feed several hundred children,” says Qureshi. Meals are available to all school-aged children from noon to 8 p.m. everyday at Gus’s locations in Mid-City, Long Beach, Burbank, and Santa Ana.
Inspired by a similar initiative at Best Pizza in Brooklyn, Prime Pizza posted an open call on its Instagram account for any LAUSD students or families to send a direct message for assistance. “It is more important than ever to be a strong pillar for our team members, customers, and the neighborhood at large,” says co-owner James Starr. “Our goal is to provide free meals as long as they are needed. We are currently working on a plan to make it as easy as possible for families in need to come to the pizzeria and pickup food.” Prime Pizza is also serving Burbank Unified School District with this initiative.
Nima Karimi, the owner of Sebastian’s Mediterranean in San Pedro, posted a heartfelt message on social media seeking to serve individuals impacted by COVID-19, including children who depend on school meals. He is currently in conversations with local school leaders on how to best assist the community at this time. “I started this business with a lot of support from the community,” says Karimi. “If I don’t help, then what am I good for? Now is the time to show who you are, now is the time to help,” he adds. Karimi plans to continue these efforts even after the pandemic passes.
With Governor Gavin Newsom forecasting that California’s public schools will remain closed until the end of the academic year, it has become more important for communities to come together to serve vulnerable children. Even though the COVID-19 pandemic has uprooted the hospitality industry, some pillars of the community are digging deep to heed the call to help those in need. While it is unclear how long these businesses can sustainably extend their generosity, all three restaurants are committed to meeting as many needs as possible for the foreseeable future.