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Tucson's La Cocina serving free meals to restaurant workers laid off because of coronavirus

Tucson's La Cocina serving free meals to restaurant workers laid off because of coronavirus

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

Between the family’s three businesses — La Cocina and Tallboys downtown and Bentley’s House of Coffee & Tea near the University of Arizona — Jo Schneider and her sons had to lay off 70 employees as a result of the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.

But rather than completely close their doors, Schneider and four of her employees, all of whom have applied for unemployment, are volunteering to help feed their colleagues in the now unsettled restaurant universe.

From 2 to 4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, for as long as there’s a need and they can afford to do it, Schneider, her three cooks and a dishwasher are serving up to as many as 75 free meals a day to out-of-work servers, bartenders, dishwashers and others in the restaurant business.

“We wanted to do something for people who work for us and anybody else that needed it,” Schneider said Wednesday afternoon after distributing her second round of free meals this week. They will do it again on Friday.

“I don’t know what I’m doing, but I had to do something,” said Schneider, who opened her first restaurant, Bentley’s, in 1984.

One of her two sons now owns and runs the shop at 1730 E. Speedway and another son owns Tallboys breakfast and bar joint at 600 N. Fourth Ave.

Schneider said she has some money set aside to support the meals program, which on Monday served up chilaquiles with beans, rice, chips and salsa and salad.

On Wednesday, her cooks made more than enough baked pasta with salad and garlic bread to have leftovers that will likely be served Friday along with chicken and rice, salad and bread.

Employees from La Cocina, which is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary, are serving the meals to go on the restaurant’s patio, two or three diners at a time to maintain social distancing.

“We’re trying to be as respectful as we can in the environment we’re given,” she said.

La Cocina is one of two known Tucson restaurants providing meals for displaced restaurant workers. Welcome Diner at 902 E. Broadway on Monday launched its pay-what-you-can “Welcome Care” program.

Customers can pay whatever they can afford for the diner’s daily “staff meal,” the meal executive chef Ian Rosales makes for the diner’s employees.

Tucson restaurants have had to resort to takeout only after the city, then the state, ordered restaurant dining rooms and bars closed.

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

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