Diane and Justin Fourton, the owners of Pecan Lodge in Deep Ellum, have started a nonprofit to provide free meals to those on the front line of the coronavirus epidemic and while benefiting a growing network of independent restaurants in Dallas.
The Dinner Bell Foundation delivers boxed meals to hospital and emergency-service workers at no charge while creating cash flow at restaurants including Luscher’s Red Hots, the Slow Bone, Maple & Motor, Monica’s Mex-Tex Cantina, and Skinny Fats. This week, the foundation received a $15,000 grant from Match, the Dallas-based online dating service, with another $15,000 pledged to match donations from individuals or business. The Match donation is enough to provide more than 5,000 free meals to healthcare and emergency-service workers, Diane Fourton says.
The idea for the nonprofit grew out of the Fourtons’ efforts to save their own business. Overnight, Pecan Lodge went from being a phenomenally popular barbecue spot, with daily lines stretching around the block, to a restaurant that lost 90 percent of its business when the city’s dining rooms were closed on March 20. “Our first thought was ‘Okay, we don’t know if the restaurant is going to survive this,’” Justin Fourton says. “We looked at everything we had in inventory in the restaurant and in our catering facility and commissary, and we thought: Let’s take all that food and cook it, and just distribute it out to the community. Let’s try to do some good, if we’re going to go down.”
They developed a modestly priced take-out menu for Pecan Lodge and saw another 10 percent of their business return — and were struck by the idea that what they were doing could also benefit other restaurants. “Even if we were able to cook at our full capacity,” Diane adds, “it would not be enough to satisfy the need of community. So we decided to bring in other restaurants, to support and help keep them open, and also to get as much good quality food [as possible] to folks who need it most.”
The Dinner Bell website now offers boxed meals for first responders and healthcare workers for $5 to $8, enough to cover the cost of the ingredients and the salaries of those who prepare it. The menu includes a hickory-smoked pulled-pork sandwich with chips and a drink for $5 and Southern fried chicken with mac ’n’ cheese or collards, a cookie, and a drink for $8. “There’s no profit in it; that’s the point,” Justin says. “We’re doing the best we can to serve the folks that need it, and to serve them something that’s uplifting in a way that you don’t get with a bologna sandwich and a banana.”
To donate meals to first responders, go to dinnerbellfoundation.org. There is a 10-lunch minimum.