Mar 24, 2020
ARLINGTON, VA -- Businesses across the country may be shut down, but one restaurant near the USA Rice office here is just getting started. Not only is the entire menu available for takeout orders, but the staff is dishing out free Cajun red beans and rice from their patio to anyone in the community who is hurting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
As soon as Arlington announced the closure of schools last Friday, David Guas, chef and owner of Bayou Bakery Coffee Bar and Eatery, was primarily concerned about his staff. Many of their children attend local schools, and Guas worried they might not have access to their regular lunches. But he also realized that the problem extended far beyond his own social sphere, with many people in the Washington, DC, metro area being laid off due to COVID-19 shutdowns and families struggling to pay for, or even access, food.
So Guas and his staff partnered with Real Food For Kids, a non-profit that advocates for healthy school food and nutrition literacy, as well as South Block Juice Company, a local Arlington juice bar that volunteered to provide fresh fruit to round out the free meals. A local law firm was the first to pledge money, gifting $5,000 to get the operation off the ground. After the first day and a half, Bayou Bakery had already served more than 150 meals of red beans and rice to local families.
Why rice and beans? First of all, it’s readily accessible, both logistically and as a food fan favorite. Another no-brainer: rice and beans are comforting, and everyone could use a little comfort right now. “Culturally, rice and beans translate internationally as a main dish or a staple, and if we can give someone not only a meal but a sense of comfort right now…that is our main goal,” said Guas. “Plus, rice and beans are nutritious and low fat, a factor that is important when we’re aiming to feed school-aged kids.”
Bayou Bakery serves Cajun-inspired food like gumbo and beignets, and Guas himself hails from Louisiana, so rice is just as central to the restaurant’s regular menu as it is to their COVID-19 relief project. He sources his long grain white rice from Louisiana to add authenticity to his Cajun-inspired dishes.
“Obviously, being from Louisiana, rice is a part of almost every meal,” Guas said. “It’s always on the table. So, rice is a very important part of what we do here.”
USA Rice will also contribute to Bayou Bakery’s efforts with a donation of twenty-five pounds of U.S.-grown rice originally slated for domestic promotion activities that have been cancelled due to the coronavirus shutdown.
“Social distancing and quarantine are making a lot of people feel isolated, and the dire economic situation worldwide has many worried about the future. But it is in times of crisis like this that a community shows what it’s made of,” said USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward. “Small businesses like Bayou Bakery, even if they’re suffering under the strain themselves, aren’t going to let COVID-19 keep them from connecting with people, even if they have to keep their physical distance. It’s reassuring to know that small businesses, and U.S.-grown rice, are providing comfort and sustenance during these tough times.”