Brooklyn’s Olmsted has long been a celebrated neighborhood restaurant thanks to its quirky, earnest, and evolving menu, it’s creative cocktails, and its lovely backyard space, where many of its ingredients are grown. But now there’s a different reason to celebrate Chef Greg Baxtrom’s restaurant.
As with most New York City restaurants, the pandemic forced Olmsted to close its dining room on March 25th. While some spots pivoted to takeout and delivery only, meals became harder to come by for many, especially healthcare workers working around the clock. That’s when Baxtrom sprang into action. Just three days after closing its dining room, Olmstead reopened as a food bank, preparing lunches for hospital workers, and giving away free food and supplies to unemployed restaurant workers, as well as anyone else in need.
“We started out trying to produce food for unemployed restaurant workers, and within hours of that being open it became just anyone that needs it,” says Baxtrom. “We try to get anything we can get our hands on that someone might need.”
With support from the Lee Initiative and Maker’s Mark, and ingredient donations from other restaurants, Baxtrom and his team give away 200 - 400 meals a week for healthcare workers, prepare dishes for a food bank they set up, and have transitioned the dining room into a “trading post,” so the public can buy the restaurant’s stock of sauces, meats, produce, wines, and other items, in order to keep some revenue flowing to continue paying employees and running the food bank. (Though Baxtrom notes that funds are running thin.)
“We’re not being creative because we want to be creative with the food, we’re being creative because we want to make random stuff taste good,” says Braxton of the different ways his team thinks about how to prepare random donated ingredients, and what they have on hand in the restaurant’s freezers and pantries. “It’s about nourishment and reaching as many people as necessary. We’re not just operating a food bank, we’re operating a food bank during a pandemic. “