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Cass Street Deli in Tampa to hand out free meals to unemployed workers

The deli will be the first Florida restaurant to participate in a national relief campaign started by a Kentucky chef.
Suzanne Crouch slices pastrami at the Cass Street Deli in this photo from 2019. The chef's restaurant is now participating in a relief program to give unemployed workers a free meal during the pandemic.
Suzanne Crouch slices pastrami at the Cass Street Deli in this photo from 2019. The chef's restaurant is now participating in a relief program to give unemployed workers a free meal during the pandemic. [ "ANGELIQUE HERRING | TIMES" | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Apr. 17, 2020

TAMPA — Cass Street Deli will become Tampa Bay’s first restaurant to participate in a national relief program to give people out of work a free meal and household supplies.

Louisville chef Edward Lee and his chef mentorship program, the Lee Initiative, partnered with whisky company Maker’s Mark to start the Restaurant Workers Relief program after the pandemic put millions out of work nationwide. Since Lee launched the program at his restaurant 610 Magnolia a month ago, it has grown to include restaurants in more than a dozen cities across the country.

“All the meals are going to people affected,” said Cass Street’s head chef Suzanne Crouch. “If you’re without a job, you’re without pay and without food.”

The Cass Street Deli in Tampa will be the first Florida location working with the program.

It’s likely more than a million Floridians have filed for unemployment, according to the governor’s office. But just over 33,000 have received unemployment benefits so far. The state’s usually booming hospitality industry has been hit the hardest. The few who are getting help from the state can only receive up to $275 per week.

Related: 33,000 Floridians have received unemployment claims, says DeSantis: ‘It’s not nearly enough.’

The deli’s relief program will run for at least the next three weeks. Crouch said the menu will shift each week, but include homestyle and comfort food meals like roasted chicken with sweet potatoes and cabbage.

Roberto Torres, founder of Blind Tiger coffee and the deli’s new owner, said those seeking meals will need to bring in pay stubs or employment papers to show they’ve been laid off. In addition to food, the deli will also hand out cleaning supplies and other household necessities.

“It helps everyone,” Crouch said. “They need to know they can come in and get these meals.”

The deli has stayed open throughout the pandemic, shifting its focus to takeout and delivery to keep as many of its own workers employed as possible. It also runs a lunchbox program so customers can donate meals to medical workers and other first-responders.

The new relief programs starts Saturday and runs every day from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Cass Street Deli, 1331 W Cass St.

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