'Chef's Market' pop-up aims to support San Jose's struggling service industry

"We're facing extinction, and if we don't come up with any kind of creative decisions to help us, the restaurant industry as you know it will be gone."
SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- As many restaurants struggle to survive during the coronavirus pandemic, a husband-and-wife team in the South Bay is hoping their idea to bring business owners together for a special pop-up will help provide a much-needed boost.

"We're facing extinction, and if we don't come up with any kind of creative decisions to help us, the restaurant industry as you know it will be gone," said Chef Rodney Baca, who co-owns The Shop by Chef Baca in San Jose with his wife Madelyn.

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The duo, through their Baca Systems nonprofit, created the Chef's Market, a new initiative to support the city's struggling hospitality sector. As part of a pilot program, five downtown restaurants will come together over the next week-and-a-half (through Jan. 12), to launch a centralized drive-thru pickup operation on S. Second St. staffed by employees out of a mobile kitchen.

Baca added, "They give everything they have... their heart, soul, that's a part of them that they put into their food."

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For every takeout order placed online, a second meal will be made at no cost to the patron, which will then be donated to San Jose SHIP Kits or Hunger at Home, two organizations that have stepped up to help support hospitality workers who have been laid off or furloughed because of the pandemic.

"That kind of innovation will continue to help us, not just to provide nourishment, but to provide love (and) to provide hope for the community," said Ewell Sterner, chief executive officer of Hunger at Home, which has already distributed nearly 3.2 million meals since March.

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The Chef's Market, which is being hosted in a parking lot provided by developer Urban Community, could include more restaurants in the future if the effort gains enough support from customers.

"There are boarded up businesses, there are people who are hanging on, and there are people who are making it work, but across the board, that light at the end of the tunnel is what gives inspiration," said Eric Glader, director of community engagement for the San Jose Downtown Association.

The Chef's Market operates Jan. 2 to Jan 12 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Orders must be placed online and then picked up at 300 S. Second St. in San Jose. The participating restaurants include: The Shop by Chef Baca, Hyland House of Sushi, Jora Peruvian, Loteria Taco Bar, and Robee's Falafel.

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