Restaurant owner Mikey Reisenberg walks through the doors at 9 a.m., which is earlier than usual. He begins prepping food right away, and around an hour or two later, the rest of his staff arrives. The crew individually boxes their famous steamed bun combos in large batches, making sure everything is done in a safe and healthy manner. Then, Reisenberg drives over to Sentara RMH Medical Center, delivering a cart of lunches to hospital workers.
Mashita, a Korean-inspired restaurant in downtown Harrisonburg, has collected online donations from the community to provide meals for the Sentara hospital staff and other local essential workers. Each time it reaches $150 in donations, it’ll use the funds to deliver meals. It sent 40 meals at its first dropoff, and manager Jennifer Nelson said the business's new goal to feed 60 ER nurses was recently met.
Mashita opened a downtown storefront, bringing even more Korean-inspired flavors — like its famous steamed buns — to The 'Burg.
Reisenberg said it’s the community that funds the donation, and the restaurant workers are “simply brokers of the good deed.” Donations are collected through electronic gift cards, in which donors can write a personalized message for essential workers. The staff provides “thank you” cards with all the messages inside.
“That way when [the workers] receive their meals, they can see what kind of community support that they are receiving, even though we’re the ones dropping the food off,” Reisenberg said. “It’s the community that deserves all of the credit for the good deeds.”
Mashita recently decided to open donations to more types of essential workers, including grocery store employees, postal workers, doctor’s offices and veterinarians. Reisenberg said he wants the community to make decisions about where their donations go, striving to make the project as “selfless as possible.”
This week, the restaurant was able to feed post office workers with a donation from Nick Swartz, owner of Alley Cat Tattoo and a friend of Reisenberg. Swartz said he wanted to support a local business and said essential workers don’t have the choice to stay home, which is why it’s important to do what one can to help.
“I think it’s important for everyone to help their neighbor, no matter what it is,” Swartz said. “I think it’s important for everyone to show compassion at this time. It’s nice to donate to all the things you see on television, but when you can do things in your own community, that’s when you can see and make a difference.”
Nelson said that a significant aspect of Mashita that’s currently suffering is its catering services since events like weddings have been put on hold. Now, the business is putting its energy toward staying in touch with customers, promoting pick-up and delivery orders and working on making meals for essential workers. Nelson said she’s been brainstorming different ways to be creative on social media, such as creating a TikTok account for Mashita to heighten engagement.
“It’s just kind of tricky to keep the business afloat,” Nelson said. “We just thought this would be a good way for everyone to win. So, the community feels like they are helping a little bit, we’re staying afloat a little bit better with the business we’re getting and we get to surprise and provide meals to hospital workers.”
Delivering meals to these workers has received “incredible feedback,” Reisenberg said. He recalled a family ordering for one of the nurse’s families, and, as soon as that nurse tried Mashita’s food, she sent a message saying she had to get more of it.
“So, it’s pretty nice to see these nurses are taking time out of their day to focus on the positive of them receiving some delicious lunches,” Reisenberg said. “I hope that brings a burst of brightness to their day.”
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 24% of small businesses have temporarily shut down, and 40% report they’ll likely follow within the next two weeks due to COVID-19. Nelson said for Mashita, business has been better than what she was anticipating, and that customers are still ordering and showing support.
“We consider ourselves very lucky,” Nelson said. “A lot of other businesses are struggling, trying to reinvent their whole process. Any support we can give them is gonna keep the community thriving.”
Reisenberg said the reason he and his staff entered the restaurant business was to make people happy. For them, food is the bright point of the day.
“I think that does more than just raise the spirits of the healthcare workers, but reemphasizes the fact that we are a close-knit community and that we do look out for one another,” Reisenberg said. “It gives us confidence and hope in a time when everything is kind of up in the air and volatile.”
Contact Kailey Cheng at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.