It’s an upside-down time in many ways, but particularly in the food industry.
Restaurants are selling groceries, and grocery stores are selling meals from local restaurants. Catering companies that should be feeding guests at weddings and graduation parties are now serving to home cooks who are celebrating making it through another week. Chefs are using videos and meal kits to help those same home cooks feel like chefs themselves.
It’s a synergy unlike any I’ve seen in more than a decade of writing about food. The fears and uncertainties are still countless. Several major meat processing plants have shut down because of COVID-19 outbreaks; food banks are overwhelmed with demand; beloved longtime restaurants are closing for good. But there are bright spots.
Small farmers have waitlists for their community-supported agriculture programs. Once-fledgling food startups are now hustling to keep up with demand, and with groceries more valuable than ever, we’re wasting less food. And the loquats are ripe.
Here are a few more pieces of good news:
• Brighter Bites, the Houston-based nonprofit that distributes millions of pounds of produce a year to low-income families in Houston and Austin, has teamed up with H-E-B to offer $25 produce vouchers every other week to all 14,100 families who normally rely on the nonprofit for weekly produce and nutrition education.
Brighter Bites, which usually distributes 25 pounds of produce a week to families, said it plans to provide the vouchers for the next two to three months. Like Common Threads, an Austin-based nonprofit that works in schools to teach nutrition and culinary education, Brighter Bites is converting its online nutrition education programs to a distance learning model.
• Common Threads’ online curriculum, called Common Bytes, is organized according to material for families, students and educators, and it includes recipes and videos for health-conscious dishes that are appealing to families with kids.
• Sifted, a food startup that, until recently, delivered chef-driven lunches to corporate offices in Austin and a handful of other major cities, is now selling grocery boxes with more than a week’s worth of food, including pantry staples, meat and fresh produce. The boxes start at $175, and each order includes six recipes to use up some of the ingredients. The company donates all leftovers to the Austin-based nonprofit Serafina, which helps seniors with health issues.
• ToMarket and Hello Alfred are two additional options for food delivery. ToMarket (tomarket.farm) works with local sources of food — currently Windy Bar Ranch, Fibonacci Food and Segovia Produce — so customers can order their products online.
Hello Alfred (helloalfred.com) is a personal shopping service in more than 20 U.S. markets, including Austin. For $25 a week, customers can send shopping lists for everything from groceries and medication to pet food to an Alfred shopper, who then delivers your goods to you, even if getting them requires more than one stop.
• The Alamo Drafthouse has expanded its grocery curbside service (alamocurbside.com) to include the Lakeline Boulevard location. The service started at Slaughter Lane and includes cocktail and meal kits.
• Through its catering wing Contigo Dispatch (contigodispatch.com), Contigo is now selling produce, dried beans, rice, pasta, milk, meat and a CSA-style box for pickup at its South Austin catering kitchen or for delivery.
• LongHorn Steakhouse has launched a LongHorn Steak Shop (longhornsteakhouse.com), where the company is selling fresh steak cuts, including filet mignon, ribeye, sirloin and New York strip, that guests can order online and pick up curbside. Each order comes with seasoning and cooking instructions, as well as honey wheat bread.
• The local arcade and restaurant Pinballz (pinballzarcade.com) is selling pantry items from its three Central Texas locations. Customers can find toilet paper, bulk eggs, milk, bread, dried pasta and pre-made burger patties to order for pickup.
• If you have sandwich lovers in your house, as I do, Potbelly Sandwich Shop (potbelly.com) can help. It is now selling bulk cold cuts, cheese, bread, condiments and cookie dough for delivery or pickup through its website.
H-E-B, Favor expand express delivery
Even though it can still be tough to get a grocery curbside or delivery time slot scheduled for a day or two out, H-E-B and Favor have announced a two-hour Express Delivery service from every H-E-B and Central Market throughout the state.
Express Delivery is operated by Favor, an Austin-based delivery company that H-E-B purchased in 2018, and costs $9.95 with a $10 tip for the runner. (For the launch, Favor has dropped the cost to $4.95 plus the $10 tip.) There is a limit of 25 items per order.
The service does not require a membership fee or minimum order, and the inventory is limited to a "selected list of groceries and essentials, such as dairy, meat, produce, beer and wine."
The service is available from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. via the Favor app or favordelivery.com.
Favor recently added 75 markets in Texas to help meet the increased demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic. This move allowed H-E-B to expand its Senior Support Program, which helps customers over age 60 order groceries for delivery. The Senior Support Line phone ordering service is available by calling 833-397-0080 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. seven days a week. For more information on the Senior Support Program, visit favordelivery.com/seniors.
H-E-B says it will waive all delivery service fees for the Senior Support Program through the end of May, and orders will require only a $10 tip.
"This new service is another way H-E-B and Favor are working together to respond to unprecedented demand during this crisis to get Texans the essentials they need, when they need them," Jag Bath, H-E-B chief digital officer and Favor CEO, said in a news release. "We continue increasing H-E-B curbside and home delivery availability for customers who want to place orders in advance for same day, next day or later — and now, with express delivery, Texans can get two-hour delivery on up to 25 items when they need an immediate option."
Rosen’s launches bake-your-own bagels
One of the many things I miss about Life Before Coronavirus is sitting down at a coffee shop with a friend or a work acquaintance, sipping on a cup of coffee that someone else made and munching on a perfectly toasted bagel with butter.
Two of those three things haven’t been happening much lately, but last week I enjoyed a coffee shop-quality bagel that reminded me of what I’d been missing.
Rosen’s Bagel Co., a local company, is now selling frozen bagels for delivery that customers can bake at home. Nicknamed "fRosens," these bagels are boiled, which gives them their characteristic texture, and then frozen and sold in packages of six, 18 or 30 ($9.99, $27.99, $39.99).
Home cooks thaw however many bagels they want to cook while the oven heats to 425 degrees. Bake for 25 minutes, and the bagels are ready to eat. Customers can choose from plain, everything, poppy seed, sesame seed, rosemary, cinnamon raisin, egg and a "big ole surprise mix."
Rosen’s is also selling baked bagels, schmears, lox and other bagel accouterments through the website ordering.app/rosensbagels. Orders must be placed 48 hours ahead of time, but there is no delivery minimum, and delivery is free in the greater Austin area. You can also pick them up at Brew & Brew or Brooklyn Breakfast Co. in South Austin.