For years as a chef and restaurateur, I would grind out hours on the line, take late-night inventory, call in Sunday morning orders with farmers and basically work 24/7 to make sure we put out the best food on every plate in my restaurants in Ithaca, New York.
In 2008, I sold my restaurants and spent the last dozen years — across three continents, two national capitals, and now on the front lines of fighting food insecurity in New York City — focused on fixing our complex and inequitable food system every day.
The West Side Campaign Against Hunger
Once the pandemic hit, in a matter of days, we shifted our 25-year-old free grocery store model — serving 22,000 customers and offering consumer choice — to a streetside, pre-bagged, farmers market-style set up to ensure staff and customer safety and continue to bring healthy food to New Yorkers in need.
Leading the West Side Campaign Against Hunger since 2017, I thought the craziness of my restaurant years were behind me. We thoughtfully planned this fiscal year, and the team was beginning the implementation of our five-year plan — building our systems and focusing on massive growth around the city to increase access to healthy food and supportive services for all New Yorkers while pushing the sector forward to a more dignity-focused approach to this work.
The year has been driven by innovation — a new fundraising event, Plentiful Plates, a jazz concert at Tavern on the Green, proved we could fundraise outside our 86th Street building and engage a new network of supporters. We expanded our collective purchasing pilot network across the city with other larger emergency food providers. We built partnerships with hospital networks, all while continuing to run our 25-year-old grocery store. And then, Covid-19 happened and food and hunger amplified — and emergency food providers became more vital than ever.