The cancelations were coming in left and right.
Tyler Sailsbery, owner of The Black Sheep restaurant in Whitewater, said most of his business comes from reservations.
All but one reservation on Friday, March 13, canceled. The next day, they all canceled.
“That’s when I started stressing,” Sailsbery said. “I felt like, ‘Well, welcome to the beginning of the end for the restaurant industry.’ And it was hard for me to see hope.
“I felt defeated.”
But then someone approached Sailsbery and agreed to donate $1,000, which amounted to $100 tips for 10 staff members, he said.
And there it was—a spark. Hope.
“I thought, ‘Tyler, you always wanted to feed people. That’s what you wanted to do, so keep doing that,’” he said. “There is good in this world. We will work together to feed people.”
So Sailsbery and The Black Sheep staff set up a free breakfast and lunch giveaway for those in need during the coronavirus pandemic.
The plan is to give away meals from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 until 9 p.m. every Tuesday through Friday “for as long as we can or until the schools reopen,” according to the restaurant’s website.
The first giveaway day was Wednesday. Sailsbery said in the morning hour they had about 25 meals prepared, but they ended up serving more than 40.
Some of the food they’re offering or planning to offer includes sandwiches, wraps, fruit, cereal, yogurt, meatloaf, turkey and soup.
People are encouraged to call 262-613-7119 or Facebook message the restaurant one day in advance to help with planning, but Sailsbery said they’re going to help anyone who shows up as best they can, no matter what.
The food is for everyone. Sailsbery was working to get brochures from the Whitewater Unified School District in the restaurant, as the district is offering food to any kid in the community—not just district students—ages 18 and younger.
Sailsbery got emotional when he recalled some of the messages he has received. Some families apologized for their need, and he said they shouldn’t feel bad.
“It’s hard,” he said. “You get messages like, ‘I need four meals for my kids. And is this just for kids because we don’t have any food either.’”
Some logistics are fluid and being worked out, Sailsbery said, adding that he is used to planning such initiatives in advance. But this was too urgent.
People come from varying levels of need. To help those who can afford to pay a little, he said The Black Sheep is offering a discounted family meal deal that feeds four or five people.
The restaurant still offers delivery and pick-up orders for interested customers.
Every little bit can keep the business afloat. Sailsbery said gift cards are also a good way to support The Black Sheep.
He said 20% of money brought in from gift card sales goes straight to staff members—10% for now to help with their own needs and 10% going into a zero-interest employee assistance program in case hard times come soon.
The rest of the gift card money will help keep the business going, covering such things as payroll and daily operations.
The restaurant industry will be one of many to suffer during the pandemic. Sailsbery has no doubt restaurants will have to close.
How long can The Black Sheep afford to give away meals for free?
“As long as it is safe to keep up,” Sailsbery said. “And as long as we can keep it up.
“I thought this was going to be just something we did on the side. I think that this will be a big, big part of what we’re doing for a while.”
Sailsbery thinks he’s going to be OK. He doesn’t need a lot to live on, and the recent sale of another restaurant, Casual Joe’s, eases his financial burdens, too.
So they will keep giving out food as long as they can.
Sailsbery likes to joke that he was put in this world to feed people.
When he was in middle school, he liked to cook with and for friends.
It was the same in college.
And it’s the same now.
“I may not know them yet as friends,” he said. “But that’s what they are. They are our community.
“And that’s why we do it.”
For additional local stories and information on the pandemic, visit gazettextra.com/coronavirus.