When your restaurant is forced to close because of the pandemic, what do you do? If you’re Joe Thompson, you start a family meal delivery business, bringing affordable heat-and-eat dinners to customers all over the Sacramento region.
For the past 16 years, Thompson has operated Gold Rush Grille in the Secretary of State building in downtown Sacramento. Since the shutdown in March, the building has been closed to the public, meaning he can’t serve customers. And because the restaurant is on the second floor, he doesn’t have the option of walkup or outdoor patio dining. His catering company, Crisp Catering, has also been impacted by the pandemic. So to keep his workers employed, Thompson started a family meal program Monday through Friday. Each meal feeds four and costs $30, with free delivery.
A different home-style meal is offered every day. It could be chicken parmesan with penne pasta, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, teriyaki chicken skewers with steamed rice, or shrimp fettuccine with garlic bread. While the menu changes from week to week, St. Louis ribs with mac ’n’ cheese—the company’s most popular dinner—is always offered on Thursdays. Thompson posts two weeks’ worth of menus at a time on his website, www.crispcatering.com. Customers place their orders via email by 3 p.m. the day before. The meals are dropped off between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. the next day.
Thompson delivers all over the region: Roseville, Rocklin, Folsom, Elk Grove, Davis, West Sac and Carmichael, as well as the central city. The food arrives, cooked but cold, in a disposable aluminum pan, along with heating instructions and Thompson’s cell phone number in case of questions, such as “Can I freeze a portion?” or “Is it OK if I eat it tomorrow?” The company offers contactless delivery for customers who request it.
Thompson says his customers include elderly people who can’t leave the house, young families with kids who are too busy to cook, and churches that have purchased meals for parishioners. One customer lives on the East Coast and orders dinners for his mom in Sacramento.
At $30, the family meals aren’t designed to be a money maker, according to Thompson. “It’s meant to keep my employees working and to provide a service to the community,” he explains. His family helps out: Wife Alison does the books, 23-year-old daughter Autumn oversees ordering and 26-year-old son Joey handles logistics and delivery. Sometimes the kids get paid, other times not. “They don’t complain,” Thompson says. “It’s sad that it’s taken this time of problems to bring us all together like this, but I’m so blessed that they all jumped in to help.”
Thompson also accepts donations to supply meals to front-line workers. “Once we get to $500, we make a delivery to a hospital, fire department, fire station or ambulance company.” He says he’s delivered meals to just about every hospital company in the region, as well as the Sacramento Sheriff’s office and Norcal Ambulance.
The best part of the business, Thompson says, is meeting his customers. “It’s become like a community club. Sometimes we’ll deliver to three houses on the same street. It’s not about the profit right now. It’s about getting through this. There will be time for profit when this pandemic is over.”