Many restaurants have struggled amid the pandemic, but for three Seattle chefs, banding together has helped them keep their doors open.
Melissa Miranda, Kristi Brown and Preeti Agarwal all opened their restaurants in 2020. Miranda operates Musang, a Filipinx restaurant that started as a pop-up before growing into a full restaurant. Agrawal's restaurant, Meesha, serves up Indian food, and Brown slings "Seattle Soul" food at Communion Restaurant and Bar.
"We just kind of kicked into gear and just kept going," Brown said.
While their restaurants were successful when they opened — Miranda said she had a three-hour wait and full capacity most nights after opening in January 2020, and Brown said she had a "great reception" — the pandemic, of course, quickly complicated matters.
"When I started in June, we were only open for two days, only for takeout," said Agarwal. "And then again, for some time we shut down, you know, because we were going back and forth with the lockdown."
Miranda said that she quickly realized that she had to change her operations as the pandemic hit Washington, one of the first states to deal with the coronavirus.
"Because the community, for us, has always been the most important aspect to how we operate this space, we converted our restaurant into a community kitchen two days after we closed," Miranda said.
"Melissa called a meeting where we got together and talked about the effects of this and what we were going to do," Brown recalled. "One of the things about food people is we love what we do and we don't do it for the pay. So it was like, 'OK, we got this food, and people are hungry, what are we going to do?' And so we kind of got together and started the Community Kitchen Collective, where we had been feeding people out of our businesses for free."
Agarwal quickly pivoted to takeout and was met with "overwhelming" demand.
"We were cooking for eight, ten hours," Agarwal said. "We started getting the orders and it was overwhelming. We were not even prepared, so we were getting sold out every day in June."
Each chef said, throughout it all, the women in their kitchens kept operations moving smoothly.
"Giving women opportunities in kitchens is extremely important, in an industry that's so male-driven," Brown said. "Being able to have other sister chefs doing the same thing is also so empowering."
The restaurant owners all said that they look forward to opening up their restaurants to full capacity soon, once it's safe to do so.
"We want to get to 100% for our businesses," said Miranda. "I think I can speak for all three of us that there is still so much work to do. And like, I'm here for it. I know we're here for it. We'll get there."
"COVID has taught us something: How to just keep going during this time," Agarwal said. "I think COVID made us much more stronger, and I think we can do this, and like Melissa said, we are not going anywhere. We'll be here."