PISCATAWAY, NJ – Like many in the catering industry, 2020 started out with a full calendar of bookings for The Food Architects, a Piscataway based catering company that, for the past 15 years has been creating and serving gourmet meals for all sorts of occasions, from weddings and backyard gatherings to large-scale corporate and Rutgers’ events.
But by March, the COVID-19 pandemic shut-downs began to happen, causing co-owner, Anthony Reis and his staff to lose all of their bookings since area businesses could not operate under state ordered mandates, and residents were told to self-quarantine to slow the spread of the new mystery virus that had become devastating.
“At the end of February, into early March, like everybody else, it was a very confusing time,” recalled Reis. “Companies were closing and people weren’t coming in. We had orders that we had worked on, some for six months including weddings, grand openings, corporate events, charity events, you name it. In the beginning we thought everything would just be postponed, but 2-3 weeks in, we started to realize they weren’t going to happen.”
The caterer, located at 121 Ethel Road West knew it needed to make some changes as to how they did business to try to recoup some of the losses they now faced.
“After a couple of weeks, we did like any entrepreneur should, we had to start adapting. We started doing individual entrees such as pulled pork mac and cheese balls,” said Reis. “We were already updating our website even before COVID and working on upping our social media game. During that time, we started concentrating on that.”
Beyond that, Reis said he knew he had to help his employees since many of them had to take care of their families.
“I started to see a lot of our competitors and a lot of restaurants early on, everyone was closing,” he said. “They realized that if they close now, they’re going to save revenue. They were bailing on their staff which I find atrocious, telling them to go on unemployment.”
“We know all of our employees intimately, and their situations,” Reis continued. “That’s where we got that pit in the stomach, like, this is no good. What are they going to do, how are we going to figure this out?”
The caterer decided to start a GoFundMe campaign to help cover some of the costs of keeping his staff on payroll, so far raising over $12,000 from various donors.
But being charity-minded, Reis said a chance order from a hospital worker at St. Peter’s Hospital who wanted to provide meals for her overnight team got him thinking about ways to help other medical personnel and first responders working on the COVID-19 frontlines, ultimately donating nutritious meals for them to enjoy while on their breaks.
“Besides the fact that they’re cheap, why are we sending pizzas to the hospitals non-stop,” he wondered at the time. “These doctors and their staff are on the frontlines and putting their lives at risk working 20-hour days, and yet we’re feeding them pizzas. Where is the nutritional value? Where is the protein, the fresh vegetables, a solid meal?”
That’s when Reis realized that with the GoFundMe donations, he could cover the cost of donating nutritious meals and keep all of his staff working.
Since then, The Food Architects have donated meals to other hospitals in the area and to the Piscataway Police Department, making sure both shifts had fresh, hot options ready.
“I don’t want the 7:00 shift to eat leftovers that are 8 hours old,” said Reis. “I don’t know if they’ve been sitting out or being stored properly. As a professional we have certain responsibilities to adhere to.”
He also got word that food banks and soup kitchens also needed help due to an increase in unemployed residents seeking assistance.
“As these things would pop up, we would be like, ‘there’s no way this is happening’, which led us to make donations to food pantries,” said Reis. “We wanted to make sure that people who were down and out and really in need were going to get the respect that they deserve.”
He went on to say that while being able to provide them with a basic meal of chicken, potatoes, and vegetables, “it won’t solve their problems, but it gives them 30 minutes of normality.”
“Now, we work with MCFOODS, Elijah’s Promise, the Metuchen Food Bank, the James O. Bryant Food Pantry in Piscataway, and a women’s shelter,” he listed, adding how he has also become a consultant, showing the charities how to save money by buying the right food items for less.
Because of these new relationships, anyone who wants to donate food items or make a monetary donation can do so through The Food Architects’ GoFundMe campaign.
“Now we have the network, so if somebody doesn’t know where to donate, they can come here,” said Reis. “I can make one phone call and there are numerous people who will love it. We’ll help anybody.”
Donors can even decide where they want their donations to go.
“With one $2,500 donation, we fed 300 people at Elijah’s Promise,” said Reis. “We just dropped off a sizable food donation to the James O. Bryant Food Pantry. And we’re dropping off food at a shelter in New Brunswick: a hot meal for today and a cold one for tomorrow so the women and children are getting two full meals.”
Being charity centered throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has had an emotional impact on Reis and his staff.
“This has been very humbling for us here at The Food Architects,” he said about how appreciative recipients have been. “We’ve always helped, but I feel bad that we’re helping more because it took the pandemic to hit.”
For more information on The Food Architects or to make a donation for area food banks and pantries, visit their GoFundMe page at https://www.gofundme.com/f/the-food-architects-save-our-staff-and-feed-people or call 732-572-1110 for details.
TAPintoPiscataway.net is an online newspaper serving the Township of Piscataway.