When the coronavirus pandemic shut down restaurants and bars in the entertainment capital of the world, it also forced the immediate closure of one of that industry’s biggest suppliers: caterers.
These are the Los Angeles food businesses responsible for the bountiful craft service table spreads and passed hors d’oeuvres that are fixtures of production sets and premieres for an industry that contributes $650 billion to the California state economy alone.
One of those caterers, Carmelized Productions, immediately found itself without any business. The catering unit from chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo (Animal, Jon & Vinny’s, and Son of a Gun) is one of the chefs’ largest operations, whether it be providing food for local events or producing 1,300 meals a day for Delta Air Lines.
“We lost all our jobs for the next two months in just 48 hours. We lost one, and then it was a domino effect. They were all gone,” said Shook.
Serendipitously for them and other local businesses, however, Amazon Studios devised a way to put its existing catering budget to use — and simultaneously promote its films and feed those in need.
The studio decided it would still spend the allocated budget for its premieres, even though those events would now have to take place in premiere-goers’ own homes. Each at-home premiere invitee receives hand-delivered, themed meals that feature food and drink from the caterers Amazon Studios had already hired for the premieres, like Jon & Vinny’s and Annie Campbell Catering.
Amazon Studios’ first at-home premiere event took place in late March. For their second premiere on April 17, for “Selah and The Spades,” Amazon enlisted Jon & Vinny’s, Helen’s Wines, and the bakery Two Chicks in the Mix to put together dinners for two in Los Angeles. In New York and other cities, premiere attendees received a pre-packaged meal for two, along with a gift card to a local restaurant in their respective cities, like Mister Jiu’s in San Francisco, Avec in Chicago, and The Dabney in Washington DC.
But there’s another, charitable component that is feeding many more people.
In March, Amazon helped Jon & Vinny’s produce 10,000 meals for the Los Angeles Mission, a group that provides aid to the homeless. This month, in partnership with No Kid Hungry and Jon & Vinny’s, it is donating 14,000 meals to the El Rancho Unified School District.
The work from Amazon Studios alone meant Shook and Dotolo could hire back 25 employees. Additionally, they were able to bring back 12 employees for the 300-plus daily meals they’re making at Son of a Gun and Trois Mec for medical professionals on the front lines, as part of José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen.
“These are huge steps in being able to stabilize your business, and we are taking [all of the guidelines] very seriously … and at the same time, trying to help our community,” Shook said. “They are not necessarily profitable jobs as much as they are just jobs that keep the lights on.”