ANN ARBOR – Sheldon Alexander opened Foodies Catering nearly a year ago after working for years in the local restaurant industry. Then, the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Like many in the service industry, Alexander’s business was immediately impacted by the sudden wave of cancellations of events and engagements.
“Once this hit, we had 17 cancellations in one day," said Alexander. “We were going into our busy season where we were about the take a big step forward.”
Alexander, a former server at The Chop House on Main Street, decided to shift gears and do what he does best: continue serving quality food.
“I was a server, all of our staff worked in the restaurant industry,” he said. “We set aside a little money for ourselves and then put the rest of the money in the meal service.”
With the help of those funds, donations from clients and a GoFundMe, Alexander and three members of his staff opened a drive-thru meal service from their mobile kitchen on March 27 in the parking lot of Muehlig Funeral Chapel at 403 S. 4th Ave. in downtown Ann Arbor. What began as a free meal service for fellow restaurant industry workers quickly began to serve members of the Ann Arbor fire and police departments, postal workers, bus drivers and nurses.
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The meal service initially operated Monday through Saturday, offering different meals each day. Sundays were used to shop for the week’s ingredients, regroup and sterilize the truck.
At that point, Foodies was serving 250-350 meals a day.
Since mid-May, Foodies has had to shift to serving meals every other day due to rising food costs, shortage of items like meat and lack of funds. At its peak, Foodies was going through 120-150 pounds of meat a day.
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AAFD Shift 1, Station 1 donated official AAFD shirts to the crew of Foodies Catering. The truck is parked at Muehlig Funeral Home. They are providing meals to restaurant employees who lost their income during the state shutdowns. We will get through this as a community. #A2strong #A2Fire @ChefShel1 https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2020/03/ann-arbor-caterer-donating-thousands-of-meals-5-more-things-that-give-us-hope-amid-coronavirus-crisis.html
Alexander said he has paid his staff’s salaries since the pandemic came to Michigan and he’s confident his business will weather the storm.
“We haven’t even turned a profit as a business yet and we’re doing this for the community," he said. “It will come back to us. I’m confident. We’re okay up until September. We’ll make it.”
This past Sunday was officially the last day of meal service, even though the group has declared three ‘last days’ in the past and kept serving.
Looking ahead to the future, Alexander said he will be pivoting to home delivery service and hopes to operate as a food truck until large events are deemed safe again.
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Hello Foodies Fam! Tomorrow is day 34 and our last day for our free meal service. Due to the rise in prices for meat, we have already spent more than what we have in donations. We would like to send a special thank you to all of our amazing friends that donated!!! We went from doing 12 days of service to 34 and will have served over 8,000 free meals to our restaurant industry, first responders, the Ann Arbor bus drivers, local post office and new found friends in the A2 community. We couldn’t have done this without help from our amazing donors!!! We did it with a four person crew, the same four people everyday. We haven’t even turned a profit as a business yet which means...no matter how big or small your business is, you can TRY to make a difference in someone’s life. Pay it forward, pass the smile along!!! Wish we could do more...
As for the meal service he never anticipated leading, he has no regrets.
“It’s been such an eye opening experience and it’s like, what better example can I set for my three boys in a dark time like this?" he said. “Make people smile. Pass the joy along in people’s life. One of the ways to do it is through good food. It feels good when you’re out here and you hear people say, ‘This is my only meal of the day’ knowing that you’re providing that. It affects you.”
To learn more about Foodies Catering, visit www.foodies-cs.com.