Matt Jozwiak should have been perfectly happy. After pursuing a lifelong dream of becoming a top chef, he was working as a station chef at Eleven Madison Park, one of New York’s finest Michelin-starred restaurants. But the sight of fresh food being thrown away each night by the kitchens of the restaurants he worked in always nagged away at him.
Forty million tons of food go unused annually in the United States – while at the same time 42 million Americans are food insecure. So Matt switched direction in 2017 and set up Rethink Food, a non-profit organization, to address an issue that then became even more acute with the advent of Covid-19 in 2020. When the pandemic struck he launched Rethink Certified, with the dual aim of feeding communities and keeping restaurants in business.
In the months since, Rethink Certified has expanded rapidly and impressively across the nation. The program has raised more than $10 million to address food insecurity and has now been rolled out at over 35restaurants. Most impressively, more than two million meals have been provided for people in need and more than 100 jobs have been secured or created.
What inspired the creation of Rethink Certified?
Food insecurity has been an issue in American communities for generations, but the impact of shutdowns in response to Covid-19 threatened to be devastating to families, restaurants and other small businesses.
Matt says: “We thought, ‘How can we both feed our communities and keep restaurants in business during trying times?’” His answer was to set up Rethink Certified and to find a way in which restaurants could serve as a pipeline to feed those affected by food insecurity.
“We thought, ‘How can we both feed our communities and keep restaurants in business during trying times?’”
The situation was critical. Restaurants were closed with no end-date in sight, food was going underutilized and many people in the hospitality sector had lost their jobs. At the same time, more families than ever were going short of food.
“We knew there was a more urgent need to take action, on a much larger scale,” adds Matt.
How does it work?
Rethink Food was already experienced in food rescue and distribution. Now Matt found a way to ensure restaurants could be part of the solution and serve as a pipeline to feed people who most needed support. Financial support from donors enabled restaurants to stay open and effectively become soup kitchens, preparing nutritional meals for neighbors in need, food that was then distributed by nearby community-based organizations.
Matt says, “Witnessing the entrepreneurial spirit of each of our restaurants against all odds, and the focus on helping their communities, was not a shock. But the humanity and will of our partners was and is just so amazing.”
The 35+ restaurants now working with Rethink Certified include establishments in Tennessee, California and Illinois, as well as Matt’s former employer at Eleven Madison Park. Each restaurant receives a badge so that patrons who dine there know they are tackling the issue of food insecurity. Matt adds, “I’m a big believer in the power of the individual; there’s a wealth of creativity and inspiration inside each person, and I see that in the daily conversations I have with our restaurant and community-based organization partners, their communities and the people on our team.
“People are really dynamic. It always keeps me going, the people element. New York specifically has that little bit extra.”
What are the next steps for Rethink Certified?
The fund-raising campaign currently underway will enable expansion through 2021. Matt believes next year will see Rethink Certified provide more than 27 million meals, while the program expands to embrace a network of more than 400 restaurants. For that target to be achieved, Matt and his team need donations to keep rolling in. If you would like to donate, please visit www.rethinkfood.org.
If people are unable to donate directly, they can still help by supporting the restaurants that are Rethink Certified. By eating there, you can help to ensure they stay in business, keep their staff employed and continue to work with local Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) to serve their neighbors. You can find a full list of current partner outlets at www.rethinkfood.org/our-partners. Volunteers are always welcome and you can sign up at www.rethinkfood.org/get-involved. You can use the same link to get in touch to request meals for a local community or to become a Rethink Certified restaurant partner.
Additionally, Rethink Food has also recently launched #RethinkGiving, its seasonal campaign inspiring people across the United States to rethink the way they give during the holiday season and support a program that has a lasting, positive impact on local neighborhoods. The funds raised from this year’s #RethinkGiving initiatives will directly support Rethink Food's goal of providing one million meals to communities impacted by food insecurity over the course of the 2020 holiday season, while also helping to stabilize restaurants.
Rethink Food has developed a technology platform to allow CBOs and restaurant partners to communicate directly, in real-time, to coordinate logistics, allowing Rethink Certified to rapidly scale. Rethink Food has also launched a donation-based café in Brooklyn to provide access to nutritious meals for those in the community.
Here are some meaningful ways to #RethinkGiving and support Rethink Food this season:
- Sierra Nevada, Dankful IPA: Rethink Food is the proud New York City partner of Sierra Nevada’s Dankful IPA. In August, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. unveiled its commitment to donate at least $1 million this year to nonprofits making an impact during the COVID-19 pandemic, centered around the beer’s release both to raise awareness for the initiative and directly support it through sales of the can. A generously hoppy West Coast-style IPA, Dankful is available in retail stores across New York City including Whole Foods Market, Wegmans, Flair Beverages, Food Cellar & Company and C Town Supermarket. The beer is 7.4% ABV with 55 IBU’s and resinous flavor notes of pine and tropical fruit.
- #AskChefsAnything x Rethink Food: On National Philanthropy Day, November 15, Rethink Food partnered with #AskChefsAnything to launch a virtual auction, with all funds raised going directly to supporting Rethink Food’s one million meal goal this holiday season. Featuring over 30+ acclaimed U.S. chefs and industry leaders including Dominique Crenn, Marcus Samuelsson, Andrew Zimmern, JJ Johnson, Scott Conant and many more, the live auction allowed participants to place their bids for the chance to win 30-minute, one-to-one conversations with each personality.
- Shop & Support Partners: Rethink Food has curated a selection of wonderful partners for this year’s Shop & Support program, with proceeds benefiting their one million meal goal. Now when you shop for the perfect holiday gift, you can feel good about where that money is being spent. Partners include House of Waris Botanicals, Lieu Dit Winery, Hu Kitchen and eat2explore, with more coming soon.
Click here to learn more about how you can support Rethink Food’s goal of providing one million meals to communities in need this holiday season.