As thousands of L.A. restaurants either switch their focus to takeout or temporarily shutter amid the coronavirus outbreak, the hospitality community has kicked into high gear to help its own. There are free meals, produce boxes, and innumerable fundraisers to generate money to help workers who’ve lost jobs or had their hours cut significantly since March 15.
Aaron Melendrez, Damian Diaz, and Othón Nolasco of Va’La Hospitality, a bar consultancy group based in Boyle Heights, noticed that no one was putting an emphasis on the industry’s most vulnerable: undocumented workers. Often the first people in a restaurant each day and the last out the door at night, undocumented employees can be treated as the most expendable when payroll needs to be leaner. And when Congress does finally dole out aid to America’s workforce, undocumented workers will be left to fend for themselves.
The Va’La guys started to think about what undocumented workers may need in the coming weeks of economic uncertainty. “What happens when the last paycheck runs out?” Nolasco wondered.
They reached out to the community, asking the managers of restaurants around Los Angeles which of their employees may need the help, and created No Us Without You as a means to feed workers and their families.
The Va’La Hospitality offices in Boyle Heights, where the three bartenders previously worked on honed cocktail recipes and developed creative concepts, are now being used as a food pantry where dinner ingredients are measured out. The goal is to provide enough food that a family of four can eat for a week. Word started to spread, and as donations started coming in, every dollar raised went to buying supplies.
The first week of providing food for the families of undocumented restaurant workers was a success, but No Us Without You is an ongoing project. The members of Va’La Hospitality hope to see the same faces each week while bringing on more families.
It all sprang from a simple question that Nolasco posed: “If we don’t help each other, who’s going to do it?”