Capi Peck Brian Chilson

Capi Peckcity director for West Little Rock’s Ward 4 and the “self-taught good cook” behind Trio’s Restaurant — has launched a “meal train” to feed medical and support staff at Briarwood Nursing Center, a senior care and rehab facility on Rodney Parham Road that’s currently navigating an outbreak of COVID-19. We talked with Peck today about the project, and about being a community-minded restaurateur during the pandemic. 

How did you first hear there was a need at Briarwood?

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Two days ago, I got a call from my colleague on the city board, Dr. Dean Kumpuris, and he had been contacted by the director of the Arkansas Department of Health [and notified] that a couple of restaurants refused to deliver to Briarwood, saying that the City of Little Rock would fine them if they did so, which is completely untrue. So he reached out to me to ask me if I could help.

I thought the best way to do this would be to create a Facebook post, which basically reiterated what Dr. Kumpuris had told me — how it was impossible for someone to contract the coronavirus by simply dropping food off in a parking lot. There’s no need for any sort of human contact. … And they’re not even looking for free food. They are able to pay for this. This is not food for the residents who live in Briarwood, which is one of the oldest nursing homes in Midtown. It’s for, specifically, the staff. They have had a number of people quit, but most have stayed on and are working 12-hour shifts and just need to be fed lunch and dinner. So I talked the next day to the administrator at Briarwood, and she was so very appreciative. So I started reaching out to restaurants — and it expanded, of course, to churches — for people who would be willing to deliver 40-50 lunches each day and 30-40 dinners to Briarwood. So now what I’ve done is, since I’m also trying to keep my restaurant folks employed in my new business model, the administrator herself is creating that schedule. We have been able to fill that schedule for the next several days with local area restaurants and churches. So things are going very, very well there. Actually, Trio’s is providing lunch tomorrow, and a couple of restaurants wanted to be able to do this as a donation, so we’ll do it as a donation a couple of times, and then we’ll figure out a billing process. Because, you know, we’re struggling along with everybody else. 

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It’s been super rewarding to see the generosity, and to see our community come together, especially people who have families at Briarwood. I have five people that I know who have parents or aunts or other family members at Briarwood, and who have tested negative, just do backflips saying, “Thank you.” So it’s kinda gone viral, and I was just really happy to be able to be the contact person to get this going.  

How many restaurants have responded so far? 

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About 15. Briarwood had everything covered today, thanks to churches and to families who have people in the residency program at Briarwood, so the restaurants will take up the call starting tomorrow. And it’s a very simple delivery system. We simply call when we get there, and drop things off — either an ice chest, or hot boxes — and we call a number and drive away and they come and get it. Super simple. I just feel like, times like this, the very best in people can come out and the very worst in people can come out. This is something that’s right here in the heart of Little Rock, and we know how to feed people — not just us, but the church response has been phenomenal. So we’re gonna take care of the staff. They take a medical oath and are staying there to take care of the residents, so I just so appreciate them. 

It’s a time when we’re all operating, to some degree, out of fear, and it’s really good to know that so many groups are responding to the situation, rather than running away from it. 

Well, folks in the hospitality industry, that’s just what we do. Feed people. Especially in a situation like this, those of us who have stayed open and closed their dining rooms — I closed mine a week before we were mandated to do so — have just come up with a new business model to keep our people employed and to do a curbside delivery and home delivery system. You know, we’re pretty resilient, and we’re thinking way outside the box. So many of my friends and colleagues in the business who have been around for a few decades and cater, we know how to do this. We know how to pack food. We have vans. It’s just second nature. What breaks my heart are the little restaurants; this would be impossible for them to do. 

Major hats off and props to our suppliers, in another project that I’ve been working on. I was contacted today by Sysco Foods, and they’ve got all this produce that restaurants normally order that’s about to go bad. Tomatoes, pineapple, potatoes, lettuce. And they were trying to figure out, “How can we come up with a distribution system for people who really need it?” So I’ve connected them with our Mobile Market, which is run through the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, giving thousands and thousands of pounds of produce each and every day, that will be distributed to neighborhoods that are already used to seeing this truck, and be able to get free produce five days a week. We’re hoping to expand that to seven days a week. It takes a village. And every day’s a new day. But we’re just trying to find a way to get food to people that need it. 

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[If you’re a restaurant owner and want to schedule a delivery to Briarwood Nursing Center, email Peck at peckcapi@gmail.com.]