A unique win-win program has kept Newark restaurants open while helping to feed those in need.
In April 2020 — at a time when the pandemic was taking hold in the state, leaving many to wonder where their next paycheck and their next meal were coming from — Audible announced it was donating $1 million to create Newark Working Kitchens, a unique meal delivery service.
Under the program, money would be raised to pay for meals (thus keeping Newark restaurants open) that would be served to those facing food insecurity — filling that all-important need.
At the time, Audible officials said they hoped the win-win program would provide 100,000 meals.
On Thursday, the program will deliver its 1 millionth meal.
“This milestone is a testament to the amazing restaurant owners and workers, city and state leadership and operational partners who have worked tirelessly to make a significant positive impact on Newark’s restaurant ecosystem and community members without enough food,” Audible founder and Executive Chairman Don Katz said.
It’s an incredible accomplishment — for an ongoing need, Katz said.
“Our restaurants and communities still need us,” he said. “We welcome donors at all giving levels to support NWK, and urge private-sector decision-makers and government officials in other cities to consider how a program like this can sustain jobs, businesses and lives in their own communities.”
The impact of the program is hard to truly measure. But here are some of the numbers:
- Meals are prepared by NWK’s 30 participating restaurants;
- More than half of the participating NWK restaurants are minority- and/or women-owned;
- Meals have reached more than 10,000 residents;
- Hundreds of jobs have been saved — many at some of the city’s most treasured restaurants.
And then, there’s this: A countless numbers of senior, low-income and disabled housing residents and people without homes have had consistent access to healthy meals throughout the pandemic.
Amina Bey, executive director of Newark Emergency Services for Families, said the program helped fill one of the city’s greatest needs during the pandemic.
“Last March, our shelves were bare, and the lines were around the block,” she said. “We had never seen a level of need like this before, and then Newark Working Kitchens arrived to save the day.
“Each and every NWK delivery has had a tremendous impact on our community. These meals have been a steady presence for recipients in a time of great uncertainty, and a lifeline to the restaurants they support.”
Josh Miller, co-owner of NWK participating restaurants Robert’s Pizza and La Cocina, said the assistance the program has given to the business world cannot be overstated.
“The pandemic put a strain on our restaurant, but an even bigger strain on our community — many of whom were already dealing with food insecurity and job loss,” he said. “Through Newark Working Kitchens, I’ve been able to keep close to 20 staff employed and our community fed. It’s been an honor to be a part of NWK over the past year and to contribute towards reaching this feat of 1 million meals served.”
Newark Working Kitchens was launched by Audible, a company that has made improving the lives of the communities in which it operates one of its defining principles.
NWK has received private and philanthropic support to fund this COVID crisis response effort, including $2 million from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, a $500,000 grant from the city of Newark, and donations from Audible, Public Service Enterprise Group, TD Bank, the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund, New Jersey Devils Managing Partners Josh Harris and David Blitzer in collaboration with the Devils Care Foundation, and numerous other local businesses and other organizations and individuals.
This spirit of togetherness did not stop with NWK.
In September 2020, Audible launched its Global Center for Urban Development to expand the company’s community and economic investment and institute new and scalable models focused on advancing equality, racial justice and economic empowerment. The center will centralize Audible’s numerous initiatives, including NWK and Audible’s collaboration with Newark Venture Partners, the early-stage social impact investment fund Katz helped launch.
As with NWK and NVP, the center works in tandem with the city of Newark, which guides NWK to determine where meal delivery is needed most and collaborate distribution with tenants associations and a growing list of community organizations, including Ironbound Community Corp., Bridges Outreach, Newark Emergency Services for Families, Palm Street Block Association, Newark Homeless Coalition, NJCRI/Crossroads Drop-in Center, Tree House Cares, Willing Heart Community Care Center, Clinton Hill Community Action and the YMCA.
Current participating NWK restaurants, many of which are part of Audible’s Lunch Out Wednesday program, include: Andros Restaurant & Diner, Barcade, Black Swan, Blueprint Café, Bulgogi Zip, Chicpea, City Rub Smokehouse, Cornbread, Fresh Coast, Harvest Table, Kilkenny Alehouse, King’s Family Restaurant & Catering, King’s #1 Family Restaurant, La Cocina, Marcus B&P, McGovern’s Tavern, Mercato Tomato Pie/Novelty Burger, Mompou/Spanish Tavern, Nizi Sushi, O’LaLa Empanadas, Panzz Seafood & Wings, Pita Square, Robert’s Pizza, Sigri Indian BBQ, Taino’s, the Halal Guys, Uncle Willie’s Wings, Veggie Walla and the Weekend Spot.