TAMPA — The restaurant Forbici Modern Italian can turn out a lot of food for 158 patrons at any given time, but cooking 5,000 Impossible Burgers was too much to ask of it. Amalie Arena, however, has the capacity to feed 20,000 people.
So when Forbici co-founders Jeff Gigante and Joe Guggino received a massive donation with which to feed coronavirus front-line workers, they called the Lightning.
It started with an idea from Tony Muniz, another partner in the Hyde Park restaurant, to make a request of Impossible Foods, a company that develops plant-based substitutes for meat products. The restaurant partners have a long relationship with the company. Gigante co-founded Ciccio Restaurant Group, the first to bring to Tampa Bay the Impossible Burger, a plant-based alternative to meat burgers. He has since left to start his own company, Gigante Hospitality.
“We said we’d really like to do something for our first responders,” Gigante said. “I was hoping it would be a cap, a bookend (to the coronavirus), like, ‘This is the end, and it’s all going to go back to normal.’ ”
It’s not quite the cap he was hoping for, though Forbici will be one of the restaurants reopening Monday with limited capacity under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plan to start lifting stay-at-home orders around the state.
But Gigante did get a bigger response than he expected from Impossible Foods. The company came back with an offer of 5,000 burgers. Gigante started calling around to see who could make best use of the food. He liked the idea of doing it all at once, making “Impossible Saturday” an occasion.
Gigante, who serves on the board of WWE star Titus O’Neil’s Bullard Family Foundation, had organized events to serve 80,000 people. But for those, outdoor kitchens were constructed. For “Impossible Saturday,” he needed something in place, hence Amalie Arena.
From there the list of participants in the project grew. Mr. Greens Produce provided tomato and lettuce, and Pepsi added drinks. Elder Ford supplied transportation. The nonprofit Support the Troops offered pallets full of Girl Scout cookies. Tampa’s Alessi Bakery donated boxes in which to pack the meals.
“It’s a great story of goodwill by small businesses who have been supported by the community forever,” Gigante said. “It’s who made us who we are. Now we wanted to give back in the time when these guys were out there on the front lines facing a deadly disease that could end their lives.”
On Saturday, Forbici’s staff and students from Metropolitan Ministries’ culinary program cooked and assembled the meals, which went to 18 organizations, including MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa General Hospital, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department, the Tampa Police Department, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, Moffitt Cancer Center and Tampa Fire Rescue.
Representatives of some of the organizations involved were on hand as trucks were packed full of boxes of food. They donned masks for a photo opportunity with O’Neil, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and Thunderbug, the Lightning mascot
Castor said she has seen acts of kindness across the city. Earlier in the day, she visited Feeding Tampa Bay. The organization handed out food to 3,000 people.
Castor said he also knew of people who donated their coronavirus relief checks, as well as a woman who applied for assistance from the city and when the aid was approved, came back and said she had gotten another job and wanted to help someone else.
“It really is wonderful,” Castor said. “It’s one of the things that defines Tampa as such a great city, the way everyone comes together. We come together to celebrate, then we come together when there’s an issue.”
Contact Diana C. Nearhos at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @dianacnearhos.