Photo Credit: Ben Brown

“The COVID-19 crisis has turned just about every aspect of daily life on its head, but at the same time, has shined the spotlight on selflessness, charity and the ability for people to mobilize with unprecedented speed.”

Everyone in the world has been affected by COVID-19 in one form or another. Some of those most affected include frontline healthcare workers who are giving their all and working such long hours they often don’t have the time to procure a hot meal, restaurants forced to drastically cut back their operations and food banks that are overburdened with need during the crisis. What if one organization was able to help out all three worthy groups? 

That organization is called Feed the Fight, started by our very own Restaurant Editor/Columnist Ben Brown. This is the heartwarming story of how Ben leveraged his entrepreneurial dream to support Southern California restaurants, frontline medical staff and at-risk families through food.

What Is Feed the Fight and How Did It Get Started?

Before diving into Feed the Fight, it’s helpful to first understand TastePro, the platform from which Feed the Fight took off. TastePro is a technology company that allows people to book custom, self-guided food tours. For those who aren’t yet familiar with food tours, think of them as a way to visit multiple restaurants and try the best of each place at a fraction of the price. Ben left the corporate world, where he worked in F&B marketing for groups such as MGM Resorts and Carnival Corporation, to start TastePro. After years of development, the company launched in early March. Operations came to a crashing halt a week later.

For most entrepreneurs, this would be a soul-crushing situation. But where others might throw in the towel, Ben saw opportunity. In just over a day, he built a subdivision of TastePro aimed toward giving back to the San Diego and Los Angeles communities where his company would otherwise operate. That program is Feed the Fight.

 

Ben: TastePro was designed as a way for restaurants to fill seats during their slower periods. The mission has always been to support local restaurants. Now they’re facing a serious uphill battle, so I asked myself, how can I continue this mission within the circumstances we’re facing right now.

Then there are those on the front lines. My dad is a doctor and my mom is a nurse. They talk every day about how challenging it is for ER and ICU staff members. While we can’t help out in the ER, we are able to do what we can to lift their spirits and just say thank you to those amazing healthcare workers. 

Then, because of the financial impact of this crisis, you have food banks that have been overwhelmed and it’s really sad that they have to turn people away because they simply don’t have enough food to go around.

How Feed the Fight Works

The operation is relatively simple. Step one is receiving contributions from the TastePro community, which are used to fund meal purchases. 

Ben: We’ve been very fortunate in getting contributions on a daily basis. After members of the TastePro community shared the story about Feed the Fight with friends and family, the news spread and more funding came from those who had previously never even heard of TastePro before, but were just looking to support local restaurants and a great cause. 

Feed the Fight then works with the restaurants to place large orders and schedules a time for delivery to hospitals and food banks. Since Feed the Fight supports the restaurants themselves as much as the end recipients of the food, Ben says that bulk or philanthropic discounts are welcome but never expected. 

In the week prior to this writing, Feed the Fight made six deliveries to ER and ICU units at hospitals such as Scripps Memorial in La Jolla, Scripps Memorial Encinitas, Rady Children’s Hospital and UCSD Thornton. 

As for food banks, Feed the Fight is working with Santa Clarita Grocery. 

Ben: [Santa Clarita Grocery] is unique in the aspect that they have virtually no overhead, so anything you give them goes a long way. Their leader, Bradley Grose, is tremendously responsive and so genuinely kind-hearted. It’s been really great working with him.

It’s important to note that Feed the Fight is not a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit, so unfortunately donations are not tax deductible (but 100% of contributions goes toward purchases at local restaurants and that food then gets delivered to hospitals and food banks), which Ben states to all potential contributors. 

The program was formed in response to the COVID-19 crisis, and as Ben puts it, “We never meant to be a charity organization. No one could have predicted this pandemic and as such we never thought we’d pivot in this way. But in a crisis like this, Feed the Fight is TastePro’s way of helping as much as possible within the very short timeline that we have. [Hopefully] this crisis will be long over by the time we’d otherwise be able to establish an official nonprofit arm of the company.”

Heartwarming Stories

Ben told of receiving a thank you note signed by the entire ICU staff at Scripps Memorial in La Jolla, as well as a message from a pregnant nurse. She shared that the meal she received was the best she had in weeks and made her feel so much better that she didn’t have to take the time to grocery shop, cook and clean after pulling a 12-hour shift. It was one of the highlights of the circumstances that she is in. 

Also rewarding is the looks on people’s faces when Ben and his volunteers arrive at a restaurant and again when they arrive at the hospitals. 

Ben: I showed up at a restaurant in North County [San Diego] recently and the owner/chef came up to me and had to restrain himself from giving me a big hug, because we just can’t do that right now, and said, “this order allowed me to bring back one of my staff members.” To think about that cook that’s now working for a day and sleeping a little better at night because they can pay bills they couldn’t pay before. I’ve also been getting many text messages and emails from participating restaurant owners that can’t express enough gratitude.

After the Crisis

Ben: I started my career in the nonprofit world, serving with Teach for America. I ultimate left to pursue my entrepreneurial dream, but the idea of giving back is just in my blood and something I want to continue doing. Now being the owner of a company that has the potential to do that, it’s something I’m even more excited about once the world restores itself to normalcy.

It would be an amazing thing if this all ended tomorrow. Feed the Fight is a temporary solution for both TastePro and our partners. What I see happening in the long-term is for Feed the Fight to fade with the impact of the COVID crisis and instead for TastePro to build some great partnerships with local registered nonprofits. I see TastePro donating some of its proceeds to those nonprofits, allowing community members to support a good cause and enjoy some great food along the way. 

This has opened my eyes to the impact TastePro can make beyond the food experience it creates for our guests. The power of giving has truly been an amazing experience personally, makes me feel good at the end of the day knowing I get to make an impact, but really it’s not me, it’s the people who are making these contributions; I’m just the one behind the scenes. 

The Future of TastePro

Many of the restaurants Feed the Fight supports are TastePro partners. In Santa Clarita there are more than a dozen and in San Diego there are neighborhoods of Del Mar, Encinitas and Carmel Valley—each with about a dozen restaurants. 

As TastePro continues to expand across Southern California, restaurants are signing on in both north and south county San Diego, in neighborhoods like Pacific Beach, North Park, Hillcrest, Little Italy—really hot food destinations; in Orange County, Newport Beach, Corona Del Mar, Dana Point, Anaheim, Irvine and Orange; and in greater LA is where TastePro is looking to expand next—in neighborhoods like Pasadena, Hollywood, Downtown LA and Santa Monica. 

Ben: I feel like I’ve gotten to develop some very deep friendships through this situation. In times of crisis, I feel that people’s true character is revealed. I want to be able to show that an organization like TastePro is truly built on a foundation of supporting restaurants. 

How You Can Join the Fight

Ben encourages any restaurants not included on Feed the Fight’s list to contact him and he will get them on and get them support as soon as possible. For more info or to donate, visit gotastepro.com/pages/feed-the-fight or email info@tastepro.com

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