Nick Wiseman is a third-generation Washingtonian and co-founder of the fast-casual restaurant Little Sesame.
I started Little Sesame with two partners in 2016. We began in a 500-square-foot basement space in downtown Washington. We now have two restaurants, with plans to open our third this year. We’ve drafted hundreds of versions of our business plan, imagined thousands of scenarios; none addressed the reality we now face.
As an unprecedented citywide shutdown loomed, and the tidal wave of layoffs and school closings compounded the food insecurity that already exists in our city, we threw out every plan we ever wrote and started over.
We launched Meals for the City — quickly turning our restaurant kitchens into community kitchens to serve our neighbors. And it has worked. We’ve served more than 10,000 meals to the most vulnerable in D.C. who are among those hit hardest by the current public health crisis.
Some important lessons have come to light in these trying times:
Our team is our greatest asset. The team’s flexibility, creativity and dedication have made it possible for us to shape-shift through this uncharted territory. While restaurants and bars across the country shed nearly a half-million jobs in March, we’re still serving food. We’re resilient because we’re in this together.
Food is a powerful tool to build community. When so much of our everyday lives has been turned upside down, meals have grounded us and created an oasis of normalcy. Food can bring us all closer together, so long as it reaches every corner of our city, especially to those too often overlooked.
The food we put on our plates matters. We need to prioritize food that distributes dollars fairly at every rung of the food chain so that farmers can steward the land, small businesses can nourish our communities, and service workers can feed their families. Investing in food is investing in each other.
As Americans, we spend less on food and more on health care per capita than any other industrialized nation. I hope this moment shows the error of this kind of prioritization. When this crisis is over, we will have a choice: return to the status quo with all its faults or put people and the health of our communities first. I am hopeful we’ll choose each other.
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