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'We’re just trying to stay Iowa strong': Restaurants give back to hospital workers, first responders

An employee from Fong's in Cedar Rapids delivers pizzas to workers at Mercy Medical Center on...
An employee from Fong's in Cedar Rapids delivers pizzas to workers at Mercy Medical Center on April 4, 2020. (Courtesy: Fong's Pizza)(KCRG)
Published: Apr. 7, 2020 at 6:50 PM CDT
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Many local restaurants are trying to keep their doors open for carryout and delivery, but a lot of them say they’re facing tough times because of coronavirus-related restrictions.

“It’s really up to the community to band together to save these small businesses because we’re holding on for dear life, to be honest, and that’s just the hard reality,” Samuel Charles, co-owner and executive chef at Rodina in Cedar Rapids’ Czech Village, said. Charles owns the restaurant with his wife, Phoebe, its general manager.

The Iowa Restaurant Association surveyed nearly 700 restaurants and bars around the state to see how they’re faring. In a release from March 26, it reported that 82% of them had laid-off workers and that their revenue on average is down 84% compared to this time last year.

A few restaurants in Cedar Rapids are working not just to stay open for their staff and customers but also to help out the people fighting this virus. One of them is Fong’s Pizza in the NewBo District.

“We had heard that a lot of the healthcare and first responders, the night shifts weren’t getting any more meals because everyone’s changed their hours,” Liz Colony, the general manager at Fong's, said.

So Fong’s put up a post on Facebook, asking, “Who could use some pizza?” It generated more than 70 comments, full of suggestions of hospitals, clinics and first responders working night shifts.

“We started last week, and we went to Mercy ER and delivered some pizzas to them,” Colony said. “We got the night shift at the local Cedar Rapids Police Department, got them some pizzas. The National Guard came in. St. Luke’s Hospital ER, we’ve gotten them.”

Colony said Fong’s plans to donate around 10 pizzas to groups each Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

For customers who want to contribute, the restaurant also has a feature on its online ordering portal that allows them to donate $2 to go toward the cost of ingredients for the donated pizzas.

“The community has embraced us so much. We need to embrace them," Colony said. "Those people are on the front line of this virus and deserve all the help anybody can give them, so we’re happy to feed them at least."

For the workers Fong’s can’t reach, Rodina is feeding them too, with its “Feed the Front Line” program.

“We started this like a week-and-a-half ago, and we’ve delivered over 100 meals so far, which is really cool,” Phoebe Charles said.

For $100, Rodina’s staff will whip up eight meals and donate them to workers at Mercy, St. Luke’s and nearby clinics. That divides out to $12.50 per meal, which Samuel Charles said is on par with most à la carte options in Cedar Rapids right now.

“A lot of this money goes to the food costs for us to be able to support our purveyors, and then a little of this money goes back into our business to try to help us dig us out of this hole that we have found ourselves in, not by our own fault, by everything that’s going on,” Samuel Charles said.

Rodina’s owners said their restaurant is one of several small businesses that "Feed the Front Line" helps.

“It allows us to turn around and support the other small businesses that we support, our farmers and our ranchers and our purveyors, our bread maker,” Samuel Charles said.

Both restaurants said they appreciate customers helping them in tough times as much as they appreciate the workers getting everyone through them.

“If a meal is a little bit of normalcy, then that’s what they deserve for sure,” Phoebe Charles said.

“We’re just trying to stay Iowa strong,” Colony echoed.

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