Adrienne Richardson likes to say she and her husband Darryl have “lived a lifetime in a daytime.”
They met in 2019, “fell in love, got married, bought a house, bought a business.”
That business is Mr. Darryl’s Southern BBQ, a food truck based in Northeast Anchorage. The Richardsons are also set to open a pop up brick-and-mortar restaurant this month, and the business was just awarded a grant to help feed Anchorage residents in need.
The pandemic is taking a huge toll on Alaska’s restaurants. In the last year, as restrictions were imposed to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, many businesses had to limit operations. Some closed altogether. The leisure and hospitality industry accounted for more than a third of the state’s total job losses in 2020.
The Restaurant Rescue program aims to help keep restaurants busy while feeding residents in need.
The Richardsons got the food truck running in Feb. 2020 — just before the pandemic began to alter life in Anchorage. Right away, Adrienne Richardson said, they knew they wanted to give back to the community.
“Our first month was dedicated to first responders,” she said.
Richardson is also a minister. With her church, and other local sponsors and volunteers, Mr. Darryl’s also worked this summer to distribute food and backpacks to local children.
Richardson said the pandemic led to the cancellation of about a dozen events and contracts they had lined up for the food truck. Financially, Richardson said, that was a big hit.
“Even though it seemed tumultuous, and our income being cut, like, 70%, 75%, we’re still standing,” said Richardson. “Because we come up with creative ways to not just feed our business but feed our community.”
Mr. Darryl’s is one of 16 Anchorage businesses recently awarded a grant through the Restaurant Rescue program.
The grant money will pay for Mr. Darryl’s to make lunch for Covenant House, an Anchorage youth shelter, five days a week.
The program is a partnership between the United Way of Anchorage, the Alaska Hospitality Retailers Association and the Municipality of Anchorage.
“It was an opportunity to create a win-win-win across the whole system,” said United Way President and CEO Clark Halvorson. “To really be able to get restaurants back up and running, keep those staff working, add hours, as well as feed some of our most needy in our community.”
This is the second round of the program. Halvorson said it was first set up in October through a grant from the Alaska Community Foundation and the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. Through the end of the year, Halvorson said 16 different restaurants delivered over 41,000 meals to community members.
Once they have the funding, Halvorson said the restaurants do all the work. They’re paid based on the number of meals they deliver.
“The restaurants are really a one-stop shop for us, which is great,” said Halvorson. “They’re producing the meals, they’re packaging the meals, and then they’re distributing the meals themselves to our endpoints.”
The municipality has spent millions of dollars this year trying to offset the impact of the pandemic on the hospitality industry. More than $7 million from the CARES Act was spent on grant payments to hospitality businesses, and more than $6 million was allocated for grants from the city’s fund balance.
The municipality allocated $600,000 to help launch a second round of the program. The Alaska Community Foundation also contributed $125,000.
“Our hope is that this moves from restaurant rescue to turning the restaurants back on in the future,” said Halvorson. “How do we get butts in seats?”
Adrienne Richardson said she’s excited to start making meals for Covenant House. And, she’s optimistic about the future of the business she shares with her husband.
“I’ve been here for 40 years and my husband’s only been here for two years,” she said. “But we as Alaskans are resilient people. And we’re not going to let pandemic or the weather get us down and stop us from serving God and serving our community and serving those we love in our community. And most importantly, those that have the least of us.”
Richardson said the grant is amazing. But, grant or no grant, she said Mr. Darryl’s Southern BBQ would find ways to feed their neighbors.