Restaurants to re-hire staff, provide free meals under new program

Posted at 3:50 PM, May 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-01 21:48:57-04

SAN DIEGO — A new program is putting some of San Diego's hardest hit workers back on the job while also promising thousands of free meals to the public.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced The High Road Kitchens initiative Friday.

The program will provide a $5,000 to qualifying restaurants to provide upwards of 500 free meals to the public. Additionally, the San Diego Workforce Partnership will step in to grant participating local restaurants $10,000 to $15,000 to rehire and retrain workers to operate amid the Coronavirus era.

"Instead of being a waitress or a waiter, you're kind of a social distance security guard, and instead of taking orders at table side, you're doing digital marketing," said Andy Hall, the partnership's chief impact officer.

So far, two San Diego restaurants are participating in the program: Ponce's Mexican Restaurant in Kensington and Super Cocina in City Heights.

Mikey Knab, who manages Ponce's, said the program helped him reopen the restaurant for full takeout. He said Ponce's distributes the free meals between noon and 1 p.m. daily.

People are ordering the meals on a special website. The meals are free, no questions asked, but customers have the option to pay $5 to reimburse the restaurant, and up to $20 to fund additional meals. The offered item changes daily. On Friday, it was a vegetarian burrito.

Ponce's did a soft launch this week, and Knab said members of the public were so generous with donations that he could see delivering 2,000 meals via the program.

"If you need food, you pay zero. If you just want to cover the cost of the food, you pay $5, an that means you bought your burrito. If you pay $10, you've paid one forward," Knab said.

The Workforce Partnership plans to expand the program to 15 local restaurants this month. Restaurants qualify if they take pledge to champion living wages, champion basic benefits and fair promotion policies for their employees.