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As coronavirus response, Welcome Diner offers pay-what-you-can 'staff meals' for Tucsonans

As coronavirus response, Welcome Diner offers pay-what-you-can 'staff meals' for Tucsonans

From the Tucson-area coronavirus coverage: Nearly 1,300 cases in Arizona, stay-at-home order series

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Welcome Diner on East Broadway on Monday launched an ambitious plan to help feed Tucsonans impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns and business slowdowns.

The nearly four-year-old restaurant in the old Chaffin's Diner, 902 E. Broadway, is offering its "staff meal" — the daily meal offered free to employees and based on what ingredients Executive Chef Ian Rosales has on hand — on a pay-what-you-can basis.

In the past week, that meal has included butternut squash bisque, Thai soup, jambalaya with red beans and rice, roasted veggies salad and Spanish rice with jackfruit. Rosales also is experimenting with dishes that can be frozen and eaten later including a fried green tomato parmesan.

TAKE OUT: 350+ Tucson-area restaurants open for pickup, delivery

You can also order off a streamlined version of the diner menu at regular prices.

Welcome Diner officially launched its "Welcome Care" program Sunday and Manager Shanna Rosing said a couple people picked up meals. A pair of displaced Tucson bartenders pitched in $20 for two meals; another customer gave the diner $20 for a container of soup.

Rosing said no one will be turned away and they will ask no questions of customers. The hope is that for every few people who can offer little to no payment, one or two customers will come in and overpay.

"We want to open these meals up to everyone, not just people who have been displaced by this pandemic," said Rosing, who is running the restaurant without any staff except Rosales.

Rosing said she also is encouraging people who can to tip; those proceeds will be divided among her restaurant's workers, who are largely the inspiration behind Rosales's ever-changing staff meals.

Since the city ordered all restaurants and bars to close last week, thousands of Tucson restaurant workers have found themselves unemployed. Rosing said the idea behind Welcome Care was born out of trying to care for Welcome Diner's affected employees. When she and Rosales realized just how much potentially perishable food they had on hand, they expanded the gesture to the public.

Welcome Diner and its sister restaurant in Phoenix also are exploring partnerships with their food distributors to provide even more opportunities to help displaced workers. Ideas include buying perishable ingredients from distributors who might be faced with lost sales due to the temporary statewide restaurant and bar closures.

Welcome Diner is open for takeout only from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Those hours could change; check the restaurant's Facebook page at facebook.com/welcomedinertucson for updates or call 622-5100.

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Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@tucson.com or 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch

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