Editor’s note: This is one in a periodic series called Stepping Up, highlighting moments of compassion, duty and community in uncertain times. Have a story we should tell? Send it via email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Stepping Up.”
The Herbfarm in Woodinville is still serving the multicourse dinners it’s known for.
But instead of its traditional nine-course, wine-paired dinners, the renowned restaurant has delivered thousands of free three-course dinners to Puget Sound-area health-care workers — and is getting rave reviews from the recipients.
“There was one lady who had worked 17 or 18 days in a row, 12-hour shifts, and she didn’t have time to make lunch,” said Carrie Van Dyck, who owns The Herbfarm with husband Ron Zimmerman. “She was coming to work thinking she was going to be having crackers and peanut butter, and then the Herbfarm meal came. She was so excited.”
The idea to deliver meals came from a customer before the restaurant was required to shut down under a statewide stay-home order.
“He was talking about how challenging it is for the hospital workers in this worst situation, and he thought maybe we could drive some boxed meals to cheer them up,” Van Dyck said.
That’s what The Herbfarm did, sending meals to EvergreenHealth and to Swedish Medical Center in Seattle on March 15.
“Then, that same day, we got word from the governor that we were going to have to close,” Van Dyck said.
So the meal delivery continued. The restaurant’s tally is 6,835 meals served and as many as 300 a night. Working six days a week, the weekly number ranges from 1,200 to 1,500.
Van Dyck said the effort has been made possible by generous support from the community. Donations were at $224,016 as of Sunday morning on its GoFundMe page.
The help also comes in other forms. Volunteers help with raising funds, and packing and delivering the food, some of which has been donated. One person donated a cow, and a couple of lambs have also been given.
The support has allowed Van Dyck to bring back some of the restaurant’s staff.
Head chef Chris Weber designs the menu each day, and the dishes are what you might expect from the AAA five-diamond restaurant that prices its meal experience from $225 to $265 per person.
Thursday’s menu was rosemary meatloaf from a grass-fed steer raised at Chinook Farms, oregano vegetable hash and lavender apple crumble. Friday’s menu was sage and mushroom melts, walnut-lovage soup and orange-balsam thyme bars.
“What we try to do on a normal basis is try to make life as perfect as possible for people for a few hours, and at least we get to break up their warlike existence with some good food and they can sit down and enjoy it with the people that they are working with,” Van Dyck said. “Or they can take it home and eat it with their family and not have to worry about getting a meal when they get off after a 12-hour shift. It is very rewarding.”
Van Dyck coordinates deliveries with hospitals, with a goal of reaching all area hospitals that are caring for coronavirus patients, so as many health care workers as possible get a special meal.
Van Dyck said she has been surprised by the amount of support the restaurant has received in its endeavor, which she points out does much more than just benefit hospital workers. It has meant jobs again for some of The Herbfarm staff, and the restaurant is buying food and ingredients from local farmers and purveyors who also need help.
But putting it together night after night is no easy task.
“We’ve reinvented ourselves,” Van Dyck said. “The chefs are cooking for hundreds of people and normally we do 50 to 70 people. We’re used to doing nine-course meals and now we’re doing three courses in a box. How do you get all of that good flavor into a box?”
It’s a challenge the restaurant is meeting based on the comments it is getting.
There is also the challenge of raising funds. The Gofundme original goal of $200,000 was revised to $325,000. Getting nonprofit status for the delivery operation has allowed the restaurant to receive grants and matching funds from corporations. That will help keep the meals coming.
Van Dyck said, “Ideally, we will continue to do this until we can open.”