Marcus Samuelsson’s Crimson Rooster St John feeds needy residents
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Famed restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson picked a troubled moment to debut an Overtown offshoot of his popular New York restaurant, Red Rooster Harlem.
Problematic, but also cheap.
During the South Beach Wine & Food Festival earlier this year, Samuelsson hosted a fancy “From Harlem to Overtown Brunch” to give guests a glimpse into his almost finished restaurant, which is located on the site of a former pool hall in 920 NW Second Ave is located. At the time, a grand opening seemed imminent. Then came the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that put everything in limbo.
But starting at noon today, Red Rooster Overtown will be opening its doors to the community and serving St Johnans in need of packaged meals. The restaurant distributes meals on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. or until the daily supply is exhausted. There are currently plans to distribute food from restaurants, including canned drinks, pasta salads, and sandwiches. Social distancing guidelines are enforced and people are asked to stand on markings that are three feet apart.
The effort is a partnership between Samuelsson’s restaurant group, Food Rescue US, and World Central Kitchen, Chef José Andrés’ global non-profit organization that mobilizes whenever and wherever disaster strikes.
“We must address food insecurity in this time of crisis, so we are proud to open our brand new Red Rooster Overtown to work with incredible partners like World Central Kitchen and Food Rescue US to ensure meals are safe in this unprecedented time of need deliver.” “Samuelsson announced today in a press release.
Red Rooster Overtown partners Michael Simkins and Derek Fleming are also attending. In a phone interview, Fleming explains that it seemed logical to use Red Rooster Harlem as a model for St John when he initiated a similar program earlier this month. “Marcus and José [Andrés] know each other from the cooking community and they got together and formed a partnership in Harlem, “Fleming tells the New Times.” It was a great success. Rooster has become a community outpost, not just for Harlem, but for the entire northern Manhattan community. “
Fleming says the effort gained a significant participant when Ellen Schmertz Bowen, who runs Food Rescue US’s St John office, approached him. “She said she was considering doing something and suggested that we work together. We had similar goals. We became a triumvirate between World Central Kitchen, Red Rooster and Food Rescue US.
“It was only three days after the initial introduction that Derek got this organized,” says Bowen. Since starting Food Rescue US-St John 18 months ago, it has used 300,000 pounds of food for other purposes. The pandemic is proving to be their greatest challenge, according to Bowen. “Part of my job is raising money to keep it all going,” she notes. “We have a few private donors and are looking for foundations. Nobody has returned my call yet, but we will keep trying.”
According to Fleming, the relief work is helping to keep some of the 100 people originally hired to work at Red Rooster – and to feed them. “A lot of the people we hired were from the Overtown community. They were thrilled to have this opportunity to work in this world-class space – and then the coronavirus was hit and they were evicted,” he says. “This is happening all over St John. Restaurant workers and service providers have been taken out of service. We can at least offer them a meal they can rely on.”
While Fleming encourages St John’s hospitality to take advantage of the meals, his intent is to provide food to Overtown residents and other starving St Johnans.
“Nobody’s turned away while we have food. We’re in Overtown to make a positive impact,” added Fleming. He also plans to expand the program to feed doctors, workers and first responders at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
“We have always been excited to be a beacon in this community. It has such a robust history of social justice and civil rights. We are even more proud that this restaurant will now have a history of giving back. This will always be our mission . “
If you are a restaurant or supplier interested in donating food or other merchandise, send an email to [email protected] or visit foodrescue.us.
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Laine Doss is the food and liquor editor for the St John New Times. It was featured on Eat Street by Cooking Channel and in the Great Food Truck Race by Food Network. She won an Alternative Weekly Award for her contribution on what it’s like to wait for tables.