Niman Ranch, along with some of Northern California’s premier chefs and restaurateurs, gives back to area first responders while providing critical financial support for local restaurants.
Images by Michael B. Woolsey, Courtesy of Niman Ranch
It’s no secret that 2020 has been a year of challenges, especially for the particularly hard-hit restaurant industry.
Combine that with California’s most catastrophic fire season on record, and you have a situation that affects the lives of tens of thousands of people on multiple levels.
Whether threatened directly by fire, or economically threatened by the Covid-19 pandemic, businesses and communities in Northern California this fall were disproportionately served up a menu of unprecedented losses to deal with.
Thankfully, they were not alone amid the blazes or statewide restaurant dining restrictions.
Niman Ranch, widely known for their leadership in sustainability and their support of family farmers and the humane treatment of animals, wasted no time jumping in to help.
Not only did Niman Ranch provide meals to firefighters while they were battling the fire, they also partnered with local independent chefs and restaurateurs to provide ‘thank you’ meals after the flames were out, thus providing critical financial support for these local establishments.
Thanks in large part to the support of independent restaurants, Niman Ranch has grown to a community of over 750 independent family farmers and ranchers today.
With many longtime friends and partners in the industry struggling in the face of Covid-19 and other forces outside of their control, Niman Ranch has pursued different avenues to help support this cornerstone sector including product donations, ‘thank you’ meals and direct relief funds.
Thanks to the quick thinking and staunch determination of Niman Ranch West Regional Sales Manager, Michelle Sanchez, herself a resident of a Northern California community threatened by this year’s fires, over 250 first responders and 80 evacuees were fed when the fires were still raging.
Sanchez first reached out to Chef Anita Cartagena, of Protea in Yountville, to see if she was willing to help feed first responders and the chef was immediately on board.
Sanchez then spread the word by putting flyers on local police and fire vehicles, letting them know where to come for a hot meal.
Once the fire was out, Niman Ranch coordinated sponsored meals prepared by participating restaurants to show thanks to the area’s first responders, made possible by the generous support of the family behind Perdue Farms—Niman Ranch’s parent company.
The Perdue family was so moved to learn from Michelle Sanchez of the bravery of the area’s first responders that they offered to fund these ‘thank you’ meals to show their gratitude to the firefighters.
“We family members will probably never meet the people who get the meals resulting from this effort, but we hope the recipients know that thousands of miles away, there’s an East Coast family that cares about their work and is thinking about them. With all our hearts, this family appreciates the men and women who to us are genuine heroes,” shared the Perdue family in a letter given to the first responders.
According to Jennifer Bennett, of Lovina Calistoga, “Calistoga absolutely would not be standing except for the incredible defense that CalFire set up around our little town. Serving up lunches was an easy way to thank the firefighters. Niman Ranch’s generosity really helped us too. Being paid for each meal allowed me to bring on staff during a particularly challenging time.”
Adding to that sentiment was Todd Humphries, chef and owner of Kitchen Door in Napa: “The partnership program for the firefighters was a great opportunity to help out and give back to the community. We were able to use a quality product and to provide meals while giving our business some much-needed revenue during this time of so much uncertainty.”
Summarizing the experience by sharing that “every little bit helps,” was Michael Dunsford, president and owner of Napa Valley Brewing Company and the Calistoga Inn, Restaurant & Brewery. “All restaurants in Wine Country are feeling the impacts from Covid-19 and the aftermath of the wildfires. The Niman Ranch order of 150 lunches for our first responders was a huge help. It created extra hours for our staff and provided additional income for the business.”
In total, more than 500 delicious and very appreciated meals were provided by this community of chefs and restaurateurs with the support of Niman Ranch and the Perdue Family.
Perhaps Sasan Nayeri, owner of Evangeline in Calistoga, captures the spirit of these efforts best of all: “Times are very tough and many local businesses, including ours, are struggling. But I really think that we should do whatever we can, whenever we can, to keep the feeling of community alive.”