It takes a village. A year ago, restaurants were shuttering in Beaumont, fighting to stay afloat both literally and figuratively in the aftermath of Harvey. Now, food is a vital part of the rebuilding process.
During the disaster, local restaurants banded together and took it upon themselves to provide food for the first responders. Instead of letting products waste and spoil, purveyors dished up anything they had to offer to anyone in need. But they’d never tell you that -- it’s all humility in this small town.
Jake Tortorice, owner of Rao’s Bakery puts it best, “Anytime you’re dealing with entrepreneurs, they’re going to have a lot of passion in their business, in their product, and ultimately in the community.”
John of J. Wilson’s always makes giving back a priority. The neighbors were so supportive of us when we first opened it that was a no-brainer. “We fed about 5,000 people over the course of 10 days. First responders, the elderly, the Red Cross, the Cajun Navy, anyone who was hungry.“
The largest locally owned hospitality group in the area emphasizes they’re all about the big picture more than the bottom line. The Manager of Madison’s explains, “We had just opened during Rita and were struggling, but we wanted to be a safe haven. We collected food from other restaurants and took it upon ourselves to feed those first responders, be a place to charge their phones, and even let the police and firemen nap upstairs.”
“Without that, I’m not sure we would have the community reputation we do today. During Harvey and Ike, we were out there passing out cases of water and cooking off all the food before it went bad. Someone actually made a comment, ‘I know everything’s going to be alright when Madison’s reopens.’ During Harvey, we turned on the TV and there were rescue boats launching from Dylan’s, our Port Arthur location. We gave anyone that came in a meal and a shower. That restaurant actually has a shower in the office because of the hurricanes. During Ike, one of the owners said, ‘I’m never going to be stranded without a shower ever again.’”
Tacos La Bamba has been in business 23 years and also pays it back 10-fold, whatever the cause. “I always donate food and let anyone use my parking lot for fundraisers. I invite local businesses to take advantage of the traffic to promote whatever they have going on, too,” says owner Carlos. It’s not a competition; it’s just neighborly.
On a larger scale, the Beaumont tourism board launched the first-ever Restaurant Week intentionally to coincide with the anniversary of Harvey. Imagined to simulate the economy, rebuild, and change the narrative, the celebration provided a much-needed distraction from the devastation. Effects of the hurricane can still be seen and felt around town if you look hard enough, but instead of dwelling on the disaster, neighbors now ask what’s for dinner.
Tourism Director Christina Majdalani said, “Restaurant Week was a huge undertaking, but we’re glad to be able to support local businesses during a week that’s already notoriously hard for restaurants during the back to school season. And this isn’t a one-time endeavor. A percent of the proceeds go toward supporting the culinary program at Lamar College so we can build a pipeline to expand our foodie footprint.” And despite the seasonal storm clouds, the future is brighter than ever for Beaumont’s restaurant scene. Just be sure to come hungry.