San Jose chef starts meal program to help restaurants, hungry residents
A photo of Rodney Baca of Chef's Kitchen standing in front of the operation's mobile kitchen. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

When chef Rodney Baca and his wife Madelyn saw how the COVID-19 pandemic was ravaging their community and small business owners, the philanthropic duo decided to help fellow restaurateurs, restaurant workers and food suppliers.

“The inspiration came from not allowing any more of us to go down if I could help it,” said chef Rodney Baca, who co-owns The Shop by Chef Baca in San Jose with his wife. “To see our brothers and sisters in the hospitality industry that are decimated, for me, we had to do something.”

The Bacas created Chef’s Market through their nonprofit, Baca Systems, to support restaurants struggling to stay open during the pandemic.

Chef’s Market brings together five local restaurants — including Baca’s own restaurant, The Shop by Chef Baca — in a parking lot in Downtown San Jose through Jan. 12. The five restaurants launched a drive-thru meal pickup near South First Street to be staffed by onsite employees from the restaurants.

For every meal that is ordered, a second meal will be prepared, at no cost to the patron, and donated to San Jose Ship Kits or Hunger at Home, two charities that support unemployed, underemployed and unhoused families due to the pandemic.

“It’s a win-win-win-win,” said Baca.

Customers are able to order from one of the participating restaurants online, ranging from sushi to pastrami sandwiches and Mexican food, and choose their pickup time. Once the order is received, the pop-up will make and package the order, and the customer can pick it up at a socially-distanced line in the parking lot of Downtown San Jose nonprofit Urban Community.

Orders range from $25 for individual meals to $100 for family-style meals that can feed a family of four.

A photo of a brisket plate, one of the meals offered by Chef’s Kitchen. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

“It’s a great innovative project with a very passionate group of individuals supporting local businesses and those facing food insecurity,” said Ewell Sterner, chief executive officer of Hunger at Home.

According to Baca, the restaurants served roughly 50 meals a day earlier this week, with a peak of more than 100 during the middle and end of the week.

After Chef’s Market closes at 6 p.m. each night, Baca totals the number of orders for that day to give to the two charities involved. First thing in the morning, he delivers the same amount of meals to either San Jose Ship Kits or Hunger at Home.

And each time, Baca said, he’s floored by how thankful people at the charities are.

“Every morning I get to drop off (meals) at Hunger at Home is probably one of the most humbling and amazing feelings I can have,” Baca said.

Should the pop-up prove successful, Baca said there might be the possibility of inviting more restaurants to participate in the future, including working with the city and the county to make the event more widespread.

“So many of us (hospitality workers) are on the verge of bankruptcy — I can’t watch that,” he added. “I know that these guys will be there for me to get this off the ground and the least I could do is help them through this and get them as much buzz as I can.”

Chef’s Market is located in the parking lot of nonprofit Urban Community in San Jose at 300 South First Street. It began Dec. 30 and will run from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day until Jan. 12. The participating restaurants also include Hyland House of Sushi, Jora Peruvian, Loteria Taco Bar and Robee’s Falafel.

For more information or to place an order, click here.

Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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