Restaurants Turn Grocers Through COVID Crisis

Acqua al 2 Head Chef Jesus Vara and Beverage Director Dominic Prudente with grocery items outside Acqua al 2 (212 Seventh St. SE). Funds raised went directly to employees who otherwise would have had no income during the restaurant shutdown. In September, Ari Gejdenson dissolved the Mindful Restaurants Group, selling some of the restaurants to employees. Photo: A. Lightman

When Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) shut down restaurant dining rooms March 16, many of them shuttered. Others offered pick-up and delivery services. Some, like Acqua Al 2 (212 Seventh St. SE) have expanded their offerings to include prepared food such as Beef Ragu; produce like coffee and bananas; wine and beer; pantry items such as flour and yeast; and janitorial items, like bleach and toilet paper. Orders are placed online and can be delivered or picked up the next day.

Gejdenson said the restaurant isn’t making any money right now; all the profits from sales during the public health emergency are going to employees.

A skeleton crew of five, including Director of Operations Teija Staples, Beverage Director Dominic Prudente and Head Chef Jesus Vara run the operation. Gejdenson said the goal is two-fold: to help the community get items they need, and to help get what he calls the “forgotten workers” paid.

The project started when Gejdenson decided to sell off the restaurant’s alcohol inventory to raise money for an employee relief fund. Staples noticed discussion about a need for flour and yeast on the Mothers on The Hill (MoTH) list serv, so the restaurant started to sell those too. They then realized pantry items could raise money for staff relief and fill a need in the community.

“We’re on the front line, so we do feel obligated to help out the grocery stores, some of them having a hard time meeting customer needs, since we can deliver food and supplies safely without interacting face to face,” said Gejdenson. “Anything that we feel can fill a need for the community that we could deliver, I don’t think we’re opposed to doing it right now.”

Acqua Al 2 isn’t alone in becoming a neighborhood grocer.

Alibi (237 Second St. NE) now accepts orders for family-sized meal kits, liquor, beer, wine, butter, milk, eggs ($5 per dozen), and Amish bacon ($7 per pound.) Alibi chef Mike Ellis drives and delivers meals within a two-mile radius at no extra charge. However, customers must order a day in advance.

Alibi’s new pantry, dubbed #YourAlibi, is stocked with hanger and flat iron steak and dry-aged ground beef from Maryland purveyor Roseda Farms. Non-edible essentials include bleach by the gallon, Bounty paper towels (the best!)  and $2 rolls of toilet paper (limit four per order). Any order over $25 comes with a roll on the house. That’s toilet paper, not baked goods.)

The prepared food section includes chicken, eggplant Parmesan and chicken pot pie. Sides: green beans with garlic and onions, potatoes roasted with sea salt and rosemary, and a garden salad. Call 202-347-2237 or visit

Others, including Joselito Casa De Comidas (660 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, and Pow Pow (1253 H St. NE,, have also expanded to pantry items. Walters Sports Bar (10 N St. SE) created a Walters CSA to connect their local grocery suppliers with retail customers through the COVID-19 crisis. Sign up and learn more at