“Covid-19 has hit hospitality pretty hard,” says Tom Jacobson, co-owner of Elsternwick burger joint Smoke & Pickles. “To keep my staff employed, I wanted to find a way to keep them engaged and give us the best chance to plough through this.”
Like many Melbourne restaurateurs, Jacobson has converted Smoke & Pickles into a takeaway-only affair for the foreseeable future.
At the same time, he’s launched a new venture called Fairfeed Community Project, working with Melbourne chefs and laid-off hospitality workers to deliver affordable meals to the community.
Fairfeed operates out of the Smoke & Pickles kitchen (which is also used as a production space for his hot-sauce brand, Changz). It started as way to keep Jacobson’s own staff employed, but it quickly expanded to include other workers affected by closures and restrictions, including casual staff who’ve lost shifts, and even a regular Smoke & Pickles customer who was laid off from her job as an events manager due to the ban on mass gatherings.
“We told our own staff, ‘We’ll keep you on the job, and if you have any friends or know of other people who are doing it tough, we’re gonna be there for them as well’,” says Jacobson.
The Fairfeed menu (which is updated every couple of days) lists three to four dishes, each one crafted by a different chef and costing around $12 to $14 for a two-person serve.
It includes Wagyu brisket goulash with pickled chillies on the side by Daniel Dobra, head chef at the newly opened (and now temporarily closed) Bistro Garçon; Jamaican jerk chicken with coconut rice and black beans from Jungle Boy’s bar supervisor Ben Forge; and a chickpea and vegetable stew with basmati rice by Mike Byard, owner of 20-seat Balaclava diner Pretty Little.
“If you dine at Pretty Little you’re spending $100 to $150 a head, and the dish we’ve put together with them sells for $7 a serve,” Jacobson says. “I think [this situation] is going to change the landscape, [and we’ll see more] chefs creating really good, nourishing food that’s accessible.”
You can choose to pick up your order or have it delivered if you live nearby. Suburbs covered include Balaclava, Brighton, Caulfield, Caulfield North, Caulfield South, Elsternwick, Elwood, Gardenvale, Glenhuntly, Ormond, Malvern, Ripponlea, Prahran, South Yarra, St Kilda, St Kilda East, Toorak and Windsor, but the list is quickly expanding. Delivery costs an additional $10.50, and $10 of that goes straight to your driver – someone who has just lost their job or some of their income.
Jacobson and his team are committed to using produce and ingredients from local suppliers, too.
“I think, when this is all said and done, that’s going to be a big focus for the industry. Let’s celebrate local suppliers and producers and really home in on shopping local and supporting local,” Jacobson says. “People will be changing their perceptions and expectations [of dining], and local concepts will be celebrated more than ever.”