One Baltimore restaurant is giving away free meals to homeless guests.
Here’s one way to shake up the tired tradition of restaurant week: Instead of catering to hungry bargain hunters, give meals away to people in need. From July 20 to July 25, a Baltimore restaurant called Tabrizi’s will do just that, serving a free buffet to about 1,000 homeless guests. On the menu: chicken cordon bleu in sage cream sauce, salad, sparkling apple cider, and ice cream.
The restaurant will be closed to the paying public for the week, and the staff is volunteering to work without pay. Owner Michael Tabrizi cited the recent unrest in Baltimore as an inspiration for his decision. The restaurant recently posted on its Facebook page: “CNN broadcasted the bad news 2 months ago, I thought broadcasting the good news is only fair.” And the restaurateur told CNNMoney, “I think the homeless need us more than ever right now. We can always do restaurant week.”
Tabrizi’s “Homeless Restaurant Week” will overlap with the city’s own promotion, which extends from July 24 to August 2—and, incidentally, made a goodwill gesture of its own this year. Baltimore Business Journal reported that the event organizers, Downtown Partnership of Baltimore and Visit Baltimore, waived the $150 restaurant participation fee in recognition of financial losses sustained while the city was under curfew in April.
Tabrizi’s move is one of a number of acts of culinary kindness that have made headlines in recent years, as Eater points out. There was, for instance, the Texas chef fined $2,000 for feeding a line of hungry people, and the pay-it-forward chain that took over a Connecticut Starbucks. Panera has been operating several pay-what-you-can community cafes since 2010, and SAME Cafe in Denver allows patrons to volunteer or donate in exchange for their meals.
This kind of socially conscious dining is a promising new way forward for the much-maligned restaurant week model. For years, chefs and foodies alike have complained that the gimmick brings out the worst in restaurant dining: uninspired menus, paltry portions, and “amateur eaters.” But as CityLab reported, the model persists because it still makes economic sense.
Baltimore’s “Homeless Restaurant Week” is explicitly not about making money—in fact, Tabrizi is reportedly spending $20,000 of his own on the event. But the gesture has generated a lot of positive press for the restaurant, from the Baltimore Sun to the Huffington Post, as well as an outpouring of support from the community. Tabrizi got more volunteers than he needed—more than 500 people are signed up—and is inviting the rest to dine alongside homeless guests. Cities around the country should take note: Incorporating a philanthropic component might be just the way to improve restaurant week.