For more coverage, visit our complete coronavirus section here.
At the posterior side of the Filoli gardens, vast oak trees frame a former tennis court at the historic grounds. The foliage creates a canopy that cools guests while they enjoy lunch prepared by Oakland’s catering business, The Town Kitchen.
An outdoor satellite café has been set up at Filoli’s Woodland Garden Court where a full team of young employees begin their shift. Most of the staff employed by The Town Kitchen are between ages 18 to 25 and come from underserved backgrounds. Some have been incarcerated. With the partnership at Filoli, the young team members are able to continue working through the pandemic while gaining entrepreneurial skills that can help them reenter society.
“We established the company to help foster and reentry youth or individuals living with criminal backgrounds,” said Eric Quick, CEO of The Town Kitchen. “We want to help elevate them professionally and economically.”
ALSO: How a group of SF volunteers helped generate nearly $50,000 for North Beach restaurants
Since the partnership, staff at The Town Kitchen have kept busy working between the satellite café and The Quail Nest Café near Filoli’s main entrance, creating assorted charcuterie boxes, grab-and-go sandwiches and salads available for purchase.
“We had a lot of philosophical alignment in what we were trying to do,” Quick said about Filoli. “Not just be an onsite caterer but really have a partnership that would allow us to produce high quality, seasonally focused meals and also leverage what they grow on the property.”
Three days a week, The Town Kitchen can be found at Filoli, but when they’re not at the Woodside property, you can find them at Chabot Space & Science Center. The catering business staffs about 40 employees that produce anywhere from 300 to 330 weekly meals between the two venues. Beyond that, 1,000 weekly meals are made separately on behalf of World Central Kitchen.
Business was booming for the five-year-old company, and Quick estimates that The Town Kitchen was set to grow by 200% until things were put at a brief standstill in March.
It was mid-February when The Town Kitchen began its new gig at Filoli but a month later, mandatory shelter-in-place orders forced Filoli to temporarily shutter. A week after the shutdown, Quick and his team devised their next move and launched The Town Kitchen Provisions, a food delivery program, that serves local families in East Oakland.
ALSO: Their bar closed long before the pandemic. Now, this duo is set on saving other bars during COVID
“We realized very quickly that our entire distributor network had paper, paper towels, and other things that people couldn’t get — so we pivoted,” Quick said. “We leveraged a lot of our existing suppliers [and] launched the business.”
The move was supportive twofold, as many of The Town Kitchen’s products are sourced through minority-owned businesses and industries owned by women. It also helped prevent any layoffs as The Town Kitchen stopped catering corporate offices when the tech crowd began working remotely.
“We had people that wanted to work, and we didn’t want them to be impacted financially,” Quick said. “We knew they’d probably take the brunt of the shutdown, depending on how long it was.”
As the pandemic destabilized many businesses, The Town Kitchen kept pushing forward and rolled with the punches. It received loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, Disaster Loan Assistance, and help from an angel investor that wanted to ensure its survival.
Quick recalls that at one point a German company that had just partnered with them pulled out after the fallout of the pandemic. But Quick reassured his staff that they needn’t worry about their paycheck.
“We basically told our employees, ‘Look, don’t worry about your check. You’re going to get paid the same on the last three payroll cycles.’”
Soon, The Town Kitchen fostered relationships with Good Eggs, Revolution Foods and others that needed extra hands during the pandemic. Employees at The Town Kitchen were given hours to assist Revolution Foods during a time when they were slammed with lunch orders made for school children.
A big focus of The Town Kitchen has been paying livable salaries. On average, hourly employees get $2 to $3 more than minimum wage and, to further assist, Quick said that his leadership team took a 20% salary reduction while he took a 30% cut.
ALSO: San Francisco restaurant sales are down by 91% since March, says study
It’s one way The Town Kitchen has demonstrated that it prioritized the needs of its team in uncertain times, and it’s paid off. Quick said that his staff have shared positive feedback during weekly calls and in monthly employee surveys.
“Prior to COVID, we were averaging about 70% retention of our employees,” said Quick. “I think that speaks volumes around the efforts that we’re putting in.”
While the financial status of The Town Kitchen has been less than it should have been before the pandemic, Quick shared that business has continued to grow every month. And once Filoli reopened in May, The Town Kitchen picked up exactly where it left off.
“We’re getting some unique opportunities given that we still are operating,” said Quick. “Our customers are coming to us because of what we do, and they want to patronize that. We owe the transparency and helping them understand how much their financial support actually goes.”
The Town Kitchen is based in Oakland and currently operating Thursday, Saturday and Sundays at Filoli, located at 86 Cañada Road, Woodside.
MORE CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE:
Sign up for ‘The Daily’ newsletter for the latest on coronavirus here.
—The 6-foot rule is ‘outdated’: Researchers devise chart to gauge COVID risk
—How worried should the Bay Area be about a ‘third spike’ of COVID-19 in the fall?
—Rapid $5 coronavirus test doesn’t need specialty equipment
—Will wildfire evacuations accelerate the spread of coronavirus in the Bay Area?
—Alameda County to allow outdoor hair, nail salons to open