EVERETT — After months of a slow trickle of takeout customers, Vintage Cafe got one massive to-go order this month:
Three thousand hot meals — each with a meat, a vegetable and a starch.
The downtown Everett eatery volunteered to cook the food for Everett Gospel Mission clients after a COVID-19 outbreak at the organization’s Smith Avenue shelter temporarily put the mission kitchen staff out of commission.
For 10 days, a handful of cafe staff stepped up, churning out 300 daily dishes to feed the homeless people who rely on the mission for lunch and dinner. All of it came from the restaurant kitchen, with two ovens, a grill and four gas burners.
“It’s been nonstop. It was a lot more than we thought it would be,” Cafe Manager Jennifer Carlson said on Thursday, two days before the mission’s kitchen staff were set to return to work. “But now we’re just in that home stretch, and it feels good.”
The restaurant, serving food and drinks at 1510 Hewitt Ave. since the 1970s, is known for its hearty American fare, including grilled French toast and other breakfast staples. Before the pandemic, the line of patrons typically stretched out the door on weekend mornings.
But since COVID-19 restrictions first took effect in the spring, the restaurant has lost a million dollars in revenue, Carlson said. Management was forced to temporarily lay off more than a dozen people working there.
The Everett Gospel Mission asked the management team if they would be up to the challenge after a local caterer, which was providing meals at the county’s isolation and quarantine facility, recommended the cafe, said mission CEO Sylvia Anderson.
“We talked to them on a Tuesday afternoon, and they were providing meals by noon the next day,” she said. “They were phenomenal.”
Longtime cafe co-owner Jim Staniford thought Carlson and co-manager Katherine Stipech were “nuts” to agree, Carlson said.
“The first couple of days was pretty chaotic,” Carlson said on Thursday, after boxing 150 lunches of rice with salad and tortillas, complemented with a salsa verde sour cream sauce.
“Today, we’re starting to feel like a well-oiled machine,” she added.
The mission provided the cafe with $25,000 in federal CARES Act funding. That meant about $6 a meal, with some money left over to bring back two cooks and a server on a part-time basis to help fulfill the tall order, Carlson said.
The job also required many more trips to a local wholesale food service warehouse, additional orders through the restaurant’s food delivery system and a few extra calls to a local bread dealer to negotiate the price of hamburger buns, Carlson said.
And, of course, 3,000 takeout containers — some plastic clam shells and others wax-lined cardboard boxes.
“I would do it again. It has helped us stay busier. It’s helped feed people who are hungry,” Carlson said. “It was a win-win.”
Rachel Riley: 425-339-3465; email@example.com. Twitter: @rachel_m_riley.