Mondays in New Orleans are when you eat red beans; that’s just the rules. An affection for this simple, simply delicious tradition led local Devin De Wulf to found the Krewe of Red Beans, back in 2008. (Krewes are small community groups that organize parades and parties, particularly around Mardi Gras.) The Krewe of Red Beans is a Mardi Gras highlight, notable for elaborate costumes featuring the locally-treasured legume.
Each year, they host the city’s Bean Madness tournament, where dozens of local restaurants compete to make the best beans. That event is now cancelled, for obvious reasons, just another blow to the suddenly foundering restaurant community. De Wulf’s first instinct, as the bad coronavirus-related news kept coming: Save the restaurants. He called up owners and chefs he had been partnering with on the tournament, asking: What can we do? How can we help?
At the same time, De Wulf’s wife, an emergency room physician, was coming home with stories about the unbelievable stress healthcare providers are under. Being a New Orleans ER is hard work most days—add in the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the city, and things had gone from bad to worse. The other day, however, he couldn’t help but notice there had been one bright spot.
"A nurse had brought cookies to share with everyone," said De Wulf. "It was a huge morale booster for staff.” The following morning, just to try and help out, he placed a $60 dessert order with a local restaurant, and dropped it off at the hospital where his wife works.
“I happened to mention this on our Krewe Facebook and Instagram, and people just started donating,” he says. The next day, he placed a $600 food order. By day three, he spent around $1,000 at local restaurants.
As of today, he is feeding up to 12 hospitals in the New Orleans area, serving roughly 1,000 meals a day, many of them delivered by out-of-work musicians. All the meals are paid for through donations, which he is collecting via Venmo—@redbeansparade—and GoFundMe, where he has $21,000 waiting to be released.
“Right now, I have money for about three more days, and the donations keep coming in,” he said. “I have no idea how long I’ll be able to do it, but I’m just hopeful that the more people read about it, they’ll say, hey, I’ll help keep that going. I know there’s a lot of people out there that love our city, and our restaurants—this is a way to make sure that they’re here, next time you come.”
De Wulf has been working with a range of different local favorites, from Boucherie to Coquette to Marjie’s Grill to Bywater staple Cake Cafe & Bakery. More than one restaurant has told him that this initiative has been a large part of what’s keeping them afloat.
The almost-accidental success of the project is something that De Wulf hopes will inspire people across the country to start it in their own cities. He welcomes any inquiries; just send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s not difficult to get something up and running, he promises.
“You have to work out the logistics for each hospital you bring on board," he said. "It’s not like delivering a pizza to somebody’s house, but once you find someone on the inside willing to help connect the dots, after that, the only thing you have to do is place an order at a restaurant."
While De Wulf’s three-tiered effort, which supports healthcare workers, local restaurants, and out-of-work musicians, is unique, other “feed the frontlines” initiatives have been rolling out across the country. Baltimore’s Mera Kitchen Collective, for example, a worker cooperative focused on empowering refugees and immigrants, has been raising cash to feed local healthcare workers, helping members earn money in the process. In Los Angeles, musician Justin Warfield has been putting out appeals for food and other donations to area hospitals via his social media.
High-end salad slinger Sweetgreen has retooled its Outpost program, typically servicing now-shuttered corporate offices, bringing it to hospitals around the country, feeding workers free of charge—any hospital interested in participating can inquire here. In New York City, now an American epicenter of the pandemic, Brooklyn's iconic Peter Luger Steakhouse is providing lunch for healthcare workers at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan.