Chefs, restaurateurs, hoteliers and others in the industry have used the crippling coronavirus ‘crisis’ to start putting the hospitable back in hospitality.
Forbes travel writer Ann Abel presents some of the silver linings in the Covid-19 cloud, in Lisbon and beyond.
A keen ‘foodie’, she realised two weeks into lockdown how the sector was finding ways to put its skills and supplies to good use.
Food for Heroes, for example, is a new platform which began with six trendy restaurants joining forces to distribute free meals to hospital staff in the capital.
The entrepreneurs behind Pasta Non Basta, Aruki, Chickinho, Home Sweet Sushi, Sushi at Home and the Burger Guy wanted together to “safely deliver the comfort of delicious food to healthcare professionals” with the secondary benefit that their staff “feel a sense of purpose through their work”.
Said Frederico Seixas of Pasta Non Basta: “It obviously would be easier to do nothing and focus on our business” but he and his partners “did it for civic and social reasons, because we want to help those on the front lines of war…”
Any hospital can order food from Food for Heroes. All health professionals need do is email email@example.com, giving their name and contact number, choosing the hour of delivery and number of people who want to eat. Orders will be taken according to when they come in.
Almost by osmosis, other restaurants have ‘come on board’. Chef Manel Perestrelo, for example, delivers croissants from his Moço dos Croissants outlet to three hospitals in the Lusíadas group; Boteco da Linha works full time for Hospital de Cascais, providing two three-course meals per day; food blogger Joana Limão has started delivering flasks of homemade soup to the capital’s Hospital de Santa Maria, while A Padaria Portuguesa offers healthcare workers free breakfasts at all its 61 outlets up and down the country.
The Algarve too is doing its bit (click here), while Makro in Porto – the Portuguese city hardest hit by the pandemic – came up with a brilliant initiative to support local food bank Banco Alimentar Contra a Fome by ‘reaching out’ to top chefs from the best restaurants in town who transformed Makro’s unused stock to feed families in need.
Now those chefs have decided to ‘stick with the plan’ and “are working on a way to serve the staff at Hospital São João, the hardest hit by coronavirus in the country”, says Abel.
Meanwhile, back in Lisbon, Portugal’s best-known celebrity chef, José Avillez has begun preparing and offering dozens of meals (with the support of suppliers) each day “to vulnerable people in two historic Lisbon neighborhoods, near to his restaurants”.
In the city itself, É um Restaurante (“it’s a restaurant”) is preparing meals for the homeless, “who have seen a drastic reduction in support services.
“Thanks to large donations of products (a ton of potatoes, 2,500 eggs), they are set up to serve 200 meals each evening. Chefs Nuno Bergonse and David Jesus (whose day jobs are at prestigious restaurants) are leading the project”.
And initiatives don’t stop there. While most of Portugal’s rural destination hotels closed their doors early on in this outbreak, the owner of Craveiral, near Zambujeira do Mar, “had other ideas”, says Abel.
“Among them was the realization that the police who are patrolling the streets to keep everyone safely apart also need to eat. Thus the kitchen was ‘repurposed’ to provide meals for law enforcement officials during their long shifts on watch, while rooms have been made available to local people who need to self-quarantine or wish to isolate from at-risk family members.
Hotels are also getting involved. While some are being requisitioned by the State, others have taken their own initiative.
“In Lisbon, the boutique guesthouse Casa Amora quickly made its six studio rooms (which have extra space and kitchenettes) available for medical workers who need to separate from their families. Within two days of putting the word out, all six were taken”.
On a larger scale, RoomsAgainstCovid is a platform from the Tech4COVID19 movement of more than 4,000 entrepreneurs and engineers from Lisbon’s robust technology economy.
With help from Turismo de Portugal, the service (spearheaded by leaders from Climber, HiJiffy and GuestCentric) allows hotels and owners of Airbnb properties to make their inventory available for medical professionals to book a free 30-day stay, with cleaning provided by a skeleton staff.
Early this week, after email, phone and social media campaigns, RoomsAgainstCovid had listed more than 1,500 rooms and accommodated more than 300 doctors, nurses and other medical workers, writes Abel.
Which leaves the winemaking niche. “Donating wine to first responders doesn’t make any sense”, says Abel carefully.
But winemaker António Maçanita has still found a way to help. He launched an online shop to sell wines that are usually available only at at fine dining restaurants, and he is sharing 50% of profits with the #euajudaquemajuda (“I help those who help”) initiative from the Portuguese Red Cross. Deliveries take a day or two in Portugal and up to three days in the rest of Europe, although in Lisbon, you can get them within hours.
As Ann Abel explains at the start of her uplifting article, hospitality means ‘taking care of’, and in the darkest hours of this crisis, Portugal’s hospitality industry is living up to its purpose.