In March, Twitch CEO Emmett Shear gave $1 million to his longtime friend Lenore Estrada, who typically heads Three Babes Bakeshop in San Francisco, to launch a new nonprofit. Estrada acted fast—indeed, faster than government aid could have—turning to SF New Deal full-time to partner with 43 restaurants, disperse that initial funding and more to small businesses, and dispense 120,000 meals and counting—in all of six weeks. With help from the SF Human Rights Commission, a group of African American faith leaders, UCSF caseworkers, dozens of other community leaders, and along with Cruise Automation, which loaned the organization self-driving cars to assist with meal deliveries, this is a cross-industry effort that has made an immediate difference for many during shelter in place (SIP). Gentry spoke with Shear and Estrada to learn more about the new nonprofit and its mission in “building a new model for community care.”
Jennifer Massoni Pardini: Rarely does the world change so drastically from issue to issue, but between profiling Three Babes Bakeshop for our April Palate department and reporting on SF New Deal for this June Giving Issue, it certainly has. How did you each identify the restaurant world/vulnerable populations in need of meals as the target for this generous donation of funding and time?
Emmett Shear: When the shelter-in-place order was announced in the Bay Area, I knew that local businesses and their workers would struggle to survive. Most small businesses in our community can’t continue to operate at all, and even many “essential” businesses face greatly reduced revenue. This is particularly true for food-service workers, many of whom are unable to shelter in place for financial reasons. A few nights later, my dad called me, and we shared our dismay that while small businesses we both love were closing and the local economy was shuddering to a halt, vulnerable people in our city would be going without necessities, even food. He suggested that perhaps we might solve one problem with another: Paying restaurants to make food and deliver it to those in need.
It made sense to me—each dollar we spent could do triple the work: First, this income could supplement restaurants’ takeout and delivery businesses to help them stay open and keep their staff employed. Second, we could slow the spread of COVID-19 by helping vulnerable people shelter in place. Third, we could create a network of resources to help government aid programs deploy their own money faster and more efficiently.
The idea for SF New Deal was planted. I was ready to put up $1 million for initial funding, but even more important was finding a person with the skills needed to put it into action. Lenore has been a friend of mine for years. I’d seen her grit and ability to get things done as a small business owner, and she was already well connected to the local businesses, community organizations, and city officials she’d need to pull it off. When I called her to propose getting it started, it turned out she’d already been thinking along similar lines and connecting to others interested in this cause, which meant she was immediately ready with a remarkable team of people from many backgrounds who were motivated to take action.
Lenore Estrada: We actually began taking action before SIP. Since most of our revenue comes from sales to corporate dining programs, it was clear by early March that we were going to need to make deep cuts if Three Babes was going to survive. (Tech companies, if you remember, took early leadership in the crisis by recommending or requiring that all of their staff begin working from home beginning in late February). The first week of March we laid off 20 of our 26 workers—it was extremely difficult as we are a close-knit team, but we knew we’d be losing 85% of our revenue for the foreseeable future and there was no other way to continue.
The shelter-in-place [order] definitely took us by surprise. We were a few weeks away from opening a new storefront, but all of a sudden construction had to completely stop. Even after the SIP ends, it will likely take several weeks for construction to begin again, as the entire crew has dispersed. But, with way fewer employees, less business than usual, and no new store to open, I was available to completely devote myself to SF New Deal, along with several other leaders who are all volunteering full-time alongside me. It’s been very intense. Basically, we’ve started a new company that almost immediately has dozens of workers and is serving 20,000-30,000 meals each week.
How did you two meet, and did you ever imagine you’d partner up?
Estrada: Emmett and I were classmates at Yale and are in the same circle of friends here in San Francisco (which Shear, originally from Seattle, has called home for 15 years and Stockton-native Estrada for 12). Over the New Year’s holiday, we had a conversation about our goals for 2020. I specifically remember telling Emmett that I wanted to work on a big, meaningful project this year. He said he wanted to find a way to get a large number of people engaged in civic issues. At the time, both of us likely had other plans in mind for how our goals were going to become a reality, but as fate would have it, an opportunity to engage both of our goals in a hands-on project presented itself!
When did SF New Deal officially launch and what have you been able to accomplish since then?
Estrada: SF New Deal launched on March 23rd. The first week we served 1,000 meals. The second week we served 18,000 meals, and the number has grown with each passing week (our weekly record so far is nearly 29,000 meals, all in San Francisco). In our first month of operations we deployed over $1 million. As of April 27, we passed the 100,000-meal mark! We are working with 43 restaurants, and are providing them with significant support—around $32,000 per month on average. We are also working with 14 community organizations, which has been the key to our ability to scale quickly.
Do you see SF New Deal continuing in some capacity as California gradually opens up?
Estrada: Initially, we were only thinking of SF New Deal as a bridge to help people until government assistance became available. Unfortunately, that assistance (both for small businesses and hungry San Franciscans) is taking longer than anticipated to materialize. FEMA and the State of California have both announced plans to feed vulnerable populations (the exact people we are currently serving), but the city/county has to administer those funds, and it will be weeks or longer before the funding is actually available. We are in our sixth week of providing meals, almost all of which have been provided entirely with private money.
We are committed to providing meals at our current volume (18,000-30,000 per week) through the end of SIP. Thereafter, we are exploring different ways of activating local communities to work together and provide support for businesses at a neighborhood level. Ultimately, we are committed to being responsive to the need, which right now is evident and not yet met on multiple fronts.