Toups Meatery’s Daily “Family Meal”

Toups Meatery’s daily “family meal” for employees has led to a change in the restaurant’s business model.

Amanda Toups is many things: a wife, mother of two and restaurateur. Her husband, Isaac Toups, is the talented chef behind their Mid-City restaurant, Toups Meatery. Over the restaurant’s 12-year history, the pair have successfully partnered both in business and in life.

As for every restaurant owner, the pandemic brought previously unimagined problems and situations into their lives. When the mandatory shutdown occurred, they were faced with laying off much of the staff. Although the restaurant would not be open, they made it clear everyone would still be welcome for “family meal,” the 3 p.m. staff feeding that had always been part of their restaurant’s culture.

“Immediately, people came to me, asking, ‘My roommate was laid off, too. Can I bring them to family meal too?’” Amanda remembered. What began as a meal for 30, quickly became 60, then 90 when other hospitality industry workers joined. At one point, they were handing out 500 meals daily.

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Luckily, Chef Jose Andres of World Central Kitchen selected Toups Meatery to be his organization’s first feeding partner in New Orleans. Soon, the Meatery was being paid to prepare meals for military veterans and unhoused people.

“That money allowed us to be able to continue our family meal effort throughout the pandemic,” she said. “Over an 18-month period, the Toups crew delivered over 100,000 meals into the community.

“When the world began to return to normal, we thought, ‘We did it. It’s over,’” Amanda said, “But it’s not.” News of Gov. Jeff Landry’s refusal of over $70 million in federal aid funding for the state’s Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer Program deeply disturbed the Toupses.

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The first big lesson Amanda remembers learning during the pandemic was exactly how food insecure New Orleans is.

“It only took five days for people to have nothing to eat,” she said. “When the summer feeding issue came up, we thought, ‘We’ve done it before. We know how to do it. Maybe we can help.’ Everything changed in the last four years,” Amanda reflected. “Philanthropy is part of our business model now.”

Burned into Amanda’s mother’s heart is the memory of tears they both shed back in March 2020, when Isaac carried food out to a car driven by laid-off Ritz-Carlton employees with small children in the backseat.

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“They looked just like our little ones at home,” she said. “But this time it’s different. The hands are still out, but they’re small hands. These are hungry kids.”

Also different this time is outreach. The 2020 Toups family meal program focused on the hospitality industry. How would they reach families in need now?

Close to Easter, the Toups reached out through their well-developed social media channels. Amanda began an assessment asking, “Are you food insecure? Tell me what you need — hot meals, cold meals, groceries? How many of you are there?”
Moving the conversation from the public forum, she shared her personal contact information to facilitate privacy.

As before, charitable giving came from partners of all size. From $5 Venmo donations to deliveries from Hubig’s Pies and Second Harvest Food Bank, the Toups crowd-sourced Easter dinner for 1,500 people, including nearly 700 children.

“It was so emotional for us all, but I have a big belief in humanity right now,” Amanda said. “So many gave of their time and resources to make it happen.”

Thankfully, state lawmakers pushed forward with efforts to fund the Summer EBT program, which means our most vulnerable will be fed. Toups’ efforts, however, are still moving ahead. The restaurant has even formed a 501(c)3 entity to make donations tax deductible.

“We still have a business to run,” said Amanda. “We’re going to sacrifice our happy hour, closing between lunch and dinner service to transform Toups once again into a community center.”

On-site voter registration is also planned.

“A lack of voters in recent elections got us here,” she said. “We’re going to get a lot of things done all at once now.”

**Donations may be made @toupsmeatery on Cashapp and Venmo or at their Mid-City restaurant.

Poppy Tooker has spent her life devoted to the cultural essence that food brings to Louisiana, a topic she explores weekly on her NPR-affiliated radio show, Louisiana Eats! From farmers markets to the homes and restaurants where our culinary traditions are revered and renewed, Poppy lends the voice of an insider to interested readers everywhere.

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