Coronavirus Report

Coronavirus Report: The Hill’s Steve Clemons interviews Joel McHale and Ryan Sarver

The Hil”s Steve Clemons interviews Ryan Sarver and Joel McHale. Read excerpts from the interview below.

Clemons: Sometimes people look at entertainers and wonder why they get involved. But you saw restaurants in Studio City closing and farmers markets in trouble. … Why did you think this was a needle you wanted to be moving?

McHale: Well, you pretty much said it, because when the COVID first hit, all these restaurants that I love started going down and I thought the very least that I could do was to just make a video with them and put them on instagram and say, “This restaurant is still open at these hours on these days, and they’re making this great food. And here’s the chef. And here’s the people that work there and help.” Because obviously, with essential workers in hospitals and essential services, working in grocery stores, we need them desperately as you said, and I think sometimes restaurants take kind of a back seat to that because it’s people who can afford restaurants. And sometimes there is disposable incomes in some ways, other restaurants are not that way. But I thought if I could just do a little bit like that, a little bit of video, then I could help in a small way. Then Ben [Falcone] and Melissa [McCarthy] and Octavia [Spencer], they saw our videos, some of my videos, and they had already started the thing that they were doing. And we kind of got together and as you’ve already mentioned, we started trying to put together a nonprofit, which it’s hard to do in a week and then in comes Superman, Ryan, and they already had Frontline Foods going, and then we just dove tailed off them and we took all the credit. And that’s why it’s called Joel Front Foods now. And yeah, so that’s kind of a very quick thumbnail sketch of what happened, but I again, anybody listening or watching, go to restaurants and seek them out and tell your friends about them, that’s my small message. 


Clemons: Tell us why you made the shift from being an investor to trying to solve this food and restaurant and worker problem.

Sarver: Yeah. I mean, it all started with a kind of really simple action. A friend of mine named Frank Barbieri and a mutual friend of ours named Sydney Gressel. She is an ER nurse at UCSF Mission Bay here in San Francisco, and they were chatting, right as kind of COVID was starting to hit the hospitals, and they were all training up on kind of COVID protocols. They said, “Hey, what you know as mere mortals can we do to help support you” and she said, “Honestly, like a pizza party would be amazing. You know, usually we get doughnuts and cold coffee and we’re working a bunch of hours, and it would just be an amazing morale boost for the team.” Frank reached out to me and, you know, we started chatting. And a bunch of my friends were owners of restaurants nearby. And while shelter in place hadn’t fully started yet, it was the beginning of kind of the shutdown. You could see what was coming, and I just knew how desperately they would probably appreciate the business. And so that that day we bought $1,000 worth of pizza to send over to the hospital, and the restaurant owner was so ecstatic and the hospital workers, our friends were just so ecstatic. And it felt so simple and so good, and we thought, “How could we kind of expand this a little bit more?” And I think we never really imagined how far it would go.


Clemons: You’re now working with José Andrés and his World Central Kitchen. José came on this show and he explained how the food ecosystem works, you know, farm to table, to restaurants, to workers, to helping vulnerable communities. How quickly did that complex ecosystem begin to run over you, because it’s not a small thing what you’re doing.

Sarver: No, I think it is a complex ecosystem, and people generally see the front door of a restaurant and kind of, you know, only think of it to that level. But behind the scenes are liquor distributors and farmers and florists who are helping support those restaurants. And so, while it is a complex ecosystem, the beautiful and simple part of it is, if you just give them money to do what they do, that money flows backwards from there into all of those parts of the ecosystem. Now, some of it was complicated because factories are getting shut down and fewer drivers were available. But in the small amount we’re able to do with a few restaurants we’re able to work with, that really simple gesture, of just paying them to do what they love to do and what they are great at, allowed that money to flow back into the rest of the local ecosystem.


Clemons: Can you share with us some of the stories you’ve seen of the people you’ve impacted?

McHale: Well, my part is very small in all this. I pushed it out and wanted as much coverage of Frontline Foods as we could get. We would see the reactions of the hospital staff through sending photos of everyone around with a pile of Frontline Food in front of them. And a lot of them would say, “Thank you so much. It meant so much.” And Ryan is the real genius here, as far as putting it all together and setting up those supply lines that are continuing today because one meal to one hospital is fine and good, but it needs to be sustained. And then with George Floyd’s murder. Obviously, our country is going through incredible times right now, and so getting people fed during that time, when there’s high unemployment, there’s high unrest, and there’s so much justice that has to take place. It’s just even more urgent to get food to people who deeply need it and can’t afford it. But Ryan said it, is that if you just have a restaurant, if you get that money to them, it’ll go to all the different parts, like the liquor distributors, the farmers, the people who drive it. If you keep that system going when COVID is finally gone, hopefully sooner than later, with a couple of these vaccines hitting phase three, the impact or when we really reopen these restaurants, it will hopefully be an easier transition back to what it was and hopefully less workers would have to have been furloughed or fired. So that’s what I hope by the time — if we could just hold on until January or February or March when this vaccine finally is available.


Clemons: What do you understand and see about communication that our government leaders don’t get?

McHale: Thank you. I will say. I mean, you can say follow the science until you’re blue in the face, which is a whole other kind of science. But, my only suggestion would be if you don’t want to wear mask or if you’re really against masks, just get a mask that displays the message you would like to display across the mask and then, no matter what it is, Hey, you’ll be wearing a mask. You’ll be saying what you want to say politically or socially, but you’ll be covered and maybe that would help. But when I hear the “We do more testing, that’s why there’s more tests. That’s why there’s more positive results.” When I hear that I go, we may be testing a lot, but it’s not like that because there’s so many more cases because there’s testing. If the numbers were going down, then the hospitals wouldn’t be so packed. So that’s the point I always make. If the hospitals were not as packed and we were just testing and testing, we had more positives, then that would show that we were testing more than anyone. But the hospitals are packed, and there’s an 11 percent infection rate in Florida right now at this moment, and it does kind of boggle my mind, I don’t know how to bring these folks together. As you know I just tell sarcastic jokes and usually a fart joke, and that gets me that buys me a lot of real estate. But, I just say please, please, please follow the science. You follow the science when you drive a car. You know, people know all about inertia. You definitely need to hit the brake sometimes. So again, as you can tell, I’m not a scientist. And the more I talk, the dumber I sound.


Clemons: What are your guide plans right now as you move from now into the future in probably a worse environment. Are you gonna expand, can people give money? How can they be part of the picture?

Sarver: Just to put a fine point on it, I do think anyone could do this. It wasn’t something unique to us in San Francisco. Joel and his group had a similar idea, and the same idea we had was popping up in a number of places. I think we’re able to bring a lot of that energy together to build a large organization. But I think one of my big takeaways from this is in the middle of a crisis like this, anyone can just get to work and help out, however way they can. And so I think it’s an important message, and it’s a time that requires all hands on deck. You know, as we think about the future of our organization. I think you know, we look at this as we’re probably in the third inning of a long baseball game, unfortunately, and a lot of people are tired. They’re tired of being stuck at home. They’re tired of the monotony. Home schooling was really difficult and and honestly, donations have been really difficult, right? People have been dealing with a lot of giving over the past four months with social justice projects and COVID-based projects. So a lot of the focus is around, where do we find the capital to continue to support the small businesses? Because they need it now more than ever, and they will continue to need it for the next year-plus. Like the economic impact that it’s gonna hit these small businesses is really, really insidious and hard to see because it’s a little bit below the surface and will take a while for it all to come to fruition. So we look over the next few years, we’re now merged with José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen. They’re an incredible organization with even more breadth and resources than we had and we’re here to help support them in expanding our mission, but also helping support them in their mission of bringing a warm meal and a helping hand to anyone in need as a crisis hits.

Tags Coronavirus Coronavirus Report Joel McHale Ryan Sarver

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