For the past 14 years, Marcia Gagliardi has shared her favorite hotspots and other San Francisco news through her popular e-newsletter, Tablehopper.
But when the coronavirus hit, Gagliardi, like many food writers, felt overwhelmed by the number of stories that needed to be told. Restaurants that sell toilet paper. Cooks serving the hungry from their own cars. Packed homeless camps with no basic needs like water.
On April 13th, Gagliardi launched a podcast called On The Fly to convey the dire state of the city but also the inspiring way restaurants gather to feed those in need. Twice a week, she publishes an episode – there are seven to date – in which she interviews a chef, restaurateur or activist who is coping, struggling and adapting during the pandemic.
“Right now there is a different timbre in each voice and I think people need to hear that in the midst of all these catastrophic changes,” says Gagliardi. She produces the podcast, available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, from her home in San Francisco.
NOPA’s Laurence Jossel was the first guest on Tablehopper’s new podcast On The Fly, which covers restaurants in the state of San Francisco during COVID-19. (Courtesy of Marcia Gagliardi)
The first episode of On The Fly opens with NOPA Chef Laurence Jossel talking about the hinge of the takeaway restaurant, the range of grocery boxes with Tomatero Farm and the stake in SF New Deal. The latter pays restaurants in San Francisco to prepare food for the most vulnerable members of the community. Since its launch on March 23, it has served restaurants and small businesses more than $ 1 million and delivered nearly 100,000 meals.
The fourth episode examines how food truck companies are doing during the crisis. Señor Sisig CEO and Co-Founder Evan Kidera shares how two of his six food trucks left the deserted streets in downtown San Francisco to visit gas stations in Oakland and Daly City, where business is better. His first brick and mortar opened in the Mission District of San Francisco in late 2019 and has quickly become a takeaway and delivery option.
Gagliardi points out that Señor Sisig – like most food trucks – is no stranger to financial hardship, as many emerged from the last economic crisis in 2008. And like NOPA, they have found a way to continue to pay their employees with good. Sisig4ThePeople, a collaboration with CityEats, is helping to feed low-income families and seniors during the pandemic.
But it’s the sixth episode that opens your eyes the most, especially if you’re seeking refuge in the East Bay or South Bay and haven’t been to San Francisco since the COVID-19 hit. Gagliardi chats with cook and activist Joanna Karlinsky as she walks to the Filet’s alleys clogged with tents, bodies, and trash – no masks, no social distancing.
“It’s apocalyptic,” says Gagliardi. “I’ve never seen anything like it on the streets of San Francisco before.”
Part of the problem is access to water. With shelters closed, public toilets, and government buildings, the unhodged face new challenges. If you want to help, keep a bottle of water in your car, Karlinsky says.
As a volunteer for Food Runners, an organization in San Francisco that reclaims discarded food and distributes it to community programs, Karlinsky is used to walking on the streets with trays of hot meals. But these days she’s doing it on her own, with the support of a Facebook fundraiser started by her friends.
“At the moment I can get rid of 100 meals in 40 minutes,” says Karlinsky, who cooks for the homeless from home and delivers hot meals from her truck.
At least there is a glimmer of hope for the restaurants in San Francisco to reopen. Adapting their business models will be crucial, explains Gagliardi. Take-out remains. Pop-ups will spring up. These pasta and bread making kits can linger to keep the lights on.
“I think we’re going to see a return to small survival businesses,” says Gagliardi, recalling the bike cake delivery and other micro-businesses that emerged from the 2008 crisis. “Maybe restaurants extend their opening hours or bring another chef for weekend brunch when they are normally closed.”
Right now, Gagliardi is giving restaurants a voice as they cope with the crisis. In the future, however, they and their guests will investigate what works – and what doesn’t.
“It’s a desperate situation and we see people trying anything and everything,” says Gagliardi. “No idea is off the table.”
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