When I first wrote about 5 Bar coming to Knoxville a year-and-a-half ago, I mentioned that the company encouraged employees to do volunteer work and that one of those opportunities included, “a local food truck called American Lunch, which distributes soups and gumbo, bread, iced tea and water, free to those who need it. Many of their employees in other cities choose to volunteer through that effort.” At that point no truck had been deployed in Knoxville.
The truck idea, which is its own 501-c3 called American Lunch grew out of an idea Chatam Morgan had as a result of a college class he was taking at the University of Alabama. He realized the need for a mobile delivery of large amounts of food to people who need it. Often those people include poor and disabled, though not necessarily homeless, people who have limited transportation options. He approached his father, Charles Morgan III, co-owner of 5 Bar, who helped him get it started. Food trucks serve every city where 5 Bar restaurants are found and have given away over 30,000 meals to date.
Urban Woman and I have enjoyed 5 Bar many times and often take out-of-town guests there – along with a number of other favorite restaurants. They are not local, but their efforts to become part of the community have impressed us. For example, we enjoyed one of our most meaningful Thanksgiving meals ever there, sharing out table with a homeless man. The meal was free for everyone who chose to eat there, and donations were not solicited, but were accepted. The result was 348 free meals served and a $3,400 donation to the Love Kitchen.
I recently followed up on the food truck that had been mentioned when they first came to the city. I caught up with it at Summit Towers where they deliver meals two days a week. A third day is devoted to similar section-8 housing in north Knoxville at Broadway Towers. It’s been serving meals since last April and on this day it was staffed by manager Anah Skelton and server Ariel McCasland from the restaurant. All employees are encouraged to volunteer for organizations of their choice – and this is one of the options. For every 100 hours logged in a calendar year, they are given a check for $1,000.
The day I visited turned out to be one of our rare recent sunny days and the crowd at the truck was steady. Co-owner Cris Eddings told me they average delivering about seventy to eighty bowls of soup per day, but that a hundred-twenty isn’t unusual on a pretty day. The food, prepared at the restaurant is kept hot inside the truck and delivered along with a glass of water or tea – and a good dose of laughter and conversation.
Cris said, “As a company we have an opportunity to teach our employees that there is more to our business than a bottom line. If we are in a position to help people,” he told me, “we need to do that.” He said the partners have been successful selling food for profit and this is something they can do to help others. He added, “To us it’s a bowl of soup, but it’s a revelation to see what a bowl of soup can do to somebody’s day.”
Community volunteers and contributions are accepted via the American Lunch website, but he said most of the work is done by employees and most of the funding comes from the 1% of profits 5 Bar sets aside for such efforts. So if you are interested in helping, please do. Otherwise, thank them next time you stop into the restaurant for their efforts to be a positive part of our community and welcome Steven Harvey the new general manager (as of January 1) who recently moved to Knoxville from Birmingham.