If you work in hospitality, you’re no stranger to heat. 

Always on the go. Always thinking one step ahead. Always facing the curveballs. But these past few weeks have been a whole different ballgame.

Decisions that would normally be weighed and considered needed to be made almost immediately. Current business models — ones that owners have spent years tweaking and perfecting — needed to be revamped at a moment’s notice. 

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Leave it to New Jersey’s food businesses to fight the good fight. There’s simply no crumbling for these tough cookies. From coffee and confections to steak and sandwiches, we talked to four businesses that have cooked up ways to reinvent themselves and pay it forward. Here are their stories. 

Brewing New Ground

Hidden Grounds has been thinking outside of the coffee box.

Owners Anand Patel and Spoorthi Kumar have launched a sponsorship coffee program across their Central Jersey and North Jersey locations. The company has donated an average of 15 boxes each day to nearby hospital staff in Saint Peter’s University Hospital and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.

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“[I] got the idea essentially when I was talking to my sister, who is a new mother of two and was going out to the grocery stores,” said Patel. “And then it came to a point where she wasn’t comfortable with doing the daily chores. But one of the things that she was saying was that she still wanted to help out ... And that’s when we realized that there has to be so many people right now who maybe have kids at home and they don’t want to risk going out or they’re living with their parents. But they would like to contribute.”

Coffee donations have been pouring in and the program is gaining traction with each new week. And it’s not just customers who’ve been funding these caffeinated refuels. Each day, Patel and Kumar guarantee a delivery of 15 boxes minimum. If the total amount of sponsored boxes is less than 15, Hidden Grounds provides the rest on the house. The company’s supply vendor has also contributed, donating 100 boxes to help support the cause. 

Hidden Grounds writes the names of donors and their personalized messages on each sponsored box.

The program has extended across all Hidden Grounds locations including New Brunswick, Jersey City and Hoboken. Donors can request that coffee be delivered to specific hospitals in any of these areas and the nearest store will fulfill that request.  

To learn more about the program and donate, click here.

Doing the Hustle for Bakery Staff

Daytime disco has never been sweeter.

The party took place on March 21 at Confections of a Rock$tar in Asbury Park. From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the rock and roll-themed bakery hosted a Saturday Night Fever Curbside event to lift community spirits and support local staff. Owner Kimmee Masi baked off a prepackaged setlist of cookies, brownies, French macarons and cupcakes to please the hungry crowd. All event proceeds went to Masi’s hardworking employees. 

“I was absolutely so stunned and impressed by the amount of people who showed up,” said Masi. “We made the decision as business owners to do the curbside so that we could give that money to our staff. So everything went to them ...They’re family. I care about them. They’re what, essentially, keep my business afloat. Without them, I couldn’t do all of this”.

The fundraiser was a sweet escape for many.

“People loved it,” Masi said. “It wasn’t just a matter of selling the stuff ... People loved the idea, they loved the concept and it gave them something to look forward to. Something else to focus their energy on.”

Confections of a Rock$tar has been closed since the curbside event. As a company that’s renowned for its custom orders and products made entirely from scratch, takeout would not facilitate the level of quality that Masi is known to deliver.

“I won’t do that, that’s what sets me apart,” said Masi. “We’re walking away from it right now and we’ll come back to it even harder.”

Masi is taking this time to reinvent her business and plan for the future. New menu items, expansion plans and Asbury-themed t-shirt designs are just some of the many projects that she is undertaking. Through the hustle and bustle of owning a bakery, she hasn’t taken a vacation in nine years. So for now, she’s welcoming the slower pace and focusing on creative pursuits.

One of which is her video series called “More Famous Than You,”  centered local musicians coming to her store to bake for charity. In the coming months, she will continue to post episodes on YouTube and prepare viewers for a new season featuring well-known artists in the area.

In a place like Asbury Park, positivity doesn’t come and go with the tide. Masi rests her faith in the strength and resilience of the local community, sharing her conviction that, “The town is not going to just fall apart ... we’re going to stay strong and positive ... we’ll make it work, we always do.”     

Catering to Those In Need

Wedding dates have been pushed back. Corporate events have gone virtual. Nearly everything that you’d normally call the caterer for has either been canceled or put on hold.

Culinary Creations has been answering a different kind of call lately. For the past few weeks, this Hillsborough caterer has been cooking and packaging gourmet meals for the elderly and healthcare workers.

Owner Andrew Pantano said that many of his clients were looking for a way to help the people who’ve been helping others. Eager to lend his talents, Pantano knows that those on the front lines “are working double overtime to offer their assistance and they need nourishment while they’re working and once their shift is finally complete and they go home … We know that they will be the same people to help us pull out of this in the end.”

Each day, the company offers Meal Deals that feed four people and are inexpensively priced ($38-$50). The menu changes daily and has included everything from short ribs to filet mignon. Customers can view the daily menu on Culinary Creations’ Instagram page, @culinary_creations.

Proceeds from the Meal Deals are used to provide meals for senior citizens who cannot venture out to the grocery stores, along with families in need that cannot afford meals. Culinary Creations delivers these meals based on the suggestions and requests of local families with no questions asked.

To aid healthcare workers, the company has created meal options to be provided at a discounted rate of $10 per meal. Donations are collected and then meals are delivered based on requests and input from the local community. Each food delivery includes a note with every donor’s name.

Behind the scenes, Pantano and his wife are working day and night to ensure the safety of both their staff and their clients. Regarding additional sanitation measures, Pantano has adapted his catering kitchen to facilitate new procedures for packaging, sealing and individually wrapping each item. Pantano and his wife have been working a seven-day work schedule from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. to save money and ensure that their staff will have jobs to return to.

Pantano knows that during this time, profit is not on the table. He believes in his valued and long-term customers for their future support:

“We have faith they will be there for us, so we are not in it currently to make much if any profit at all by the time it is done,” Pantano said. “We really hope and pray as we help as many as we can during this time, that they will help us with their patronage when it is all over ... We want to help the community that has helped us succeed for over 25 years.”

To donate meals for healthcare workers and first responders, click here. To purchase a Meal Deal, call Culinary Creations at 908-281-3894.  

Making Lunchtime Souper

Lunch used to mark the halfway point for many daytime workers. But with so many healthcare workers putting in extra hours, a proper midday meal has become all the more essential.

That’s why Princeton Soup & Sandwich has been spreading the love with some nourishing and delicious pre-packed sandwiches.

Owner Lisa Ruddy runs the shop with her daughter, Alexandra Ruddy and their dedicated team. Alexandra shared that it all started with a kind gesture from within the Princeton community.

“Palmer Square Retailers and the Nassau Inn made a generous purchase of 100 bagged lunches that we delivered on March 30,” she said. “After we saw how happy the Princeton healthcare professionals were with the food they were receiving, my mom and I decided to make it available to the public to purchase.”

The sandwich movement has been on a roll ever since.     

Alexandra created a GoFundMe page with the goal of raising $10,000 for donated lunches. Met with immediate and immense support, the company has already reached this goal and is aiming even higher to continue feeding the frontliners. For every delivery, donors’ names are printed on cards and attached to the bagged lunches. 

So far, Alexandra and the team have delivered hundreds of bagged lunches to Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center and Capital Health Medical Center - Hopewell. They’re also looking to extend the program to police officers, firefighters and EMTs.  

Princeton Soup & Sandwich is doing more than making the meals and fulfilling the deliveries. When a relative of one of the nurses at Penn Medicine donated 20 bagged lunches for the staff, the company matched those 20 to deliver a total of 40 meals.

While GoFundMe does keep a percentage of donations, the company will be making enough lunches to cover the actual donation total as if no money was taken.

The program has also helped protect the company’s tight-knit team. Before the program launched, it was only Ruddy and her mother who were able to keep working. But because their efforts have been so successful, more management staff will be returning to help pay it forward and retain their jobs.

Word of the program has quickly spread across Princeton, largely thanks to the company’s social media presence and personal and professional outreach.

“The community we are in has only responded positively and it warms all of our hearts...even people who cannot donate at this time are still spreading the word to family and friends,” Alexandra Ruddy said. “Friends, family, people we do not even know have been amazing through all of this and we cannot feel more blessed by the outreach of generous people in trying times. It truly is an amazing feeling to be back at work.”

To donate a bagged lunch and help support the program, visit the Princeton Soup & Sandwich GoFundMe page, click here.

Writer Jessica Clark is also the owner and head copywriter of The Content Creamery, an agency specializing in sweet marketing solutions for food and beverage businesses. To learn more about Jessica, visit thecontentcreamery.com

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