In the wake of COVID-19’s unapologetic takeover of everyone’s social life, there is comfort – and more importantly, food – providing a sense of normalcy to local families on Aquidneck Island.
Newport’s Winner Winner and Middletown’s Flat Waves Food Shack are not only open for takeout, they’re teaming up with the Boys and Girls Club of Newport County to help provide families in need with delicious dinners.
“Eating mac and cheese is like eating a hug,” Winner Winner restaurant co-owner Steve Yerger said. “It’s kind of exactly what you need sometimes.”
It’s hard to think of a time better than now, when big bear hugs are out of the question and many of us are craving ways to help others without leaving the safe space of our living room couches.
When we’re hungry for something other than the beef that’s claiming squatter’s rights at the bottom of our freezers, we can reach out to one of these restaurants knowing we also have the chance to make a donation toward something good.
“There’s a lot of people who are doing this because they love doing it, myself included,” Yerger said. “Making ‘Buckets of Love’ has been a pleasant distraction and a very heartwarming thing for me and the people who work here.”
Winner Winner’s $25 “Buckets of Love” campaign grants Boys and Girls Club member families in need with an eight-piece fried chicken bucket, macaroni and cheese, Brussels sprout slaw and biscuits.
“I hope it keeps its momentum and we can keep treating people, because that’s really what we signed up to do when we signed up to be in this business,” Yerger said. “Hopefully, this story has a happy ending.”
Flat Waves owner Will Burgess heard about Winner Winner’s feel-good initiative and was inspired to get involved. He contacted Yerger, who connected him with the Boys and Girls Club of Newport County Director of Development, Kelley Coen.
“It’s a weird time and a lot of people are hurting,” Burgess said, “Fortunately for us, a lot of people are coming for takeout and we just wanted to keep paying it forward.”
Flat Waves put together its own $25 donation dinner, which includes Shoyu Chicken, Kalua Pulled Pork, rice, four side salads with dressing, and their “Almost Famous” sauces.
“Everybody is in it for the right spirit and the right reasons,” Coen said. “The fact that a simple nice gesture about paying it forward has been able to create the ripple effect and spread something positive in this time is wonderful.”
“Aquidneck Island is such a special community,” Burgess said. “I feel like whenever someone sees someone hurting or even sees that there’s a need, people jump in to help.”
“It’s a good, strong community,” Yerger agreed. “When people need help, people help.”
Supporting the community has always been important to Flat Waves, a place that offers “gourmet food on a paper plate” and sets aside Thursday nights for fundraisers. Now that their restaurant is strictly takeout and their catering business is temporarily at a standstill, they were eager to maintain their stake in the community while lending a helping hand.
“If we take it one day at a time and focus on doing things that we believe in,” Burgess said, “We will weather the storm and pull through it.”
For some families, part of the Coronavirus crisis is not just figuring out what to have for dinner, but how to put food on the table. This is especially true for Boys and Girls Club member families. A $25 donation buys a family in need a meal from Winner Winner or Flat Waves Food Shack, and it reminds children stuck at home that they haven’t been forgotten.
“The response from families has been wonderful,” Coen said. “The families are grateful, and their spirits have been lifted. The kids are excited and have something to look forward to.”
Whereas children in the program were once able to experience a wealth of social activities in after-school care, which often included dinner provided by the organization, they are now experiencing the lulls of life apart. What’s more, some of their parents may be out of work or struggling to make ends meet.
“We have a very high ratio of single parent families and we do have a high level of poverty,” Coen said. “Newport is known for its mansions, but truthfully the folks that really live and work in this community year-round are struggling.”
It’s a difficult time for many restaurant owners across the country. Yerger and Burgess are happy to be able to provide a service while keeping their staff employed and continuing to do what they do best.
“We’re open,” Yerger said. “We’re trying our best to feed people, keep people employed and provide a sense of normalcy in a turbulent time.”
Winner Winner’s most popular sides are easily the mac and cheese and their homemade tots, and of course, their Rotisserie and fried chicken combos are standards for any takeout order.
“It’s kind of incredible how many people are coming out,” Burgess said. “We’re pretty overwhelmed with thankfulness for the community in continuing to support our business.”
From eclectic tacos to açaí bowls and smoked “Kahlua” pulled pork, you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu at Flat Waves.
“Everyone in this community is being hit hard and doesn’t know what the future holds,” Coen said. “The fact that people are responding because they know these kids need help is just beautiful.”
We could all use a little comfort food right about now, and these guys are doing their best to keep spirits up by keeping our bellies and our hearts full at the same time.