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Tucson restaurants respond to COVID-19; Welcome Diner offers pay-what-you-can deal

Tucson restaurants respond to COVID-19; Welcome Diner offers pay-what-you-can deal

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

Welcome Diner has 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 — to the public 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.

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.

Since the city ordered all restaurants and bars to close dine-in service 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, 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 at for updates or call 622-5100.

In other COVID-19 restaurant news:

  • Boca Tacos at 533 N. Fourth Ave. is selling pandemic-related shirts to help raise money for its displaced employees. The “A Taco A Day Keeps the Corona Away” shirts cost $20 and the proceeds benefit Boca’s employees who are facing cuts in hours. About half of the restaurant’s 27 employees have been temporarily laid off as a result of the global health crisis. Shirts are available at the restaurant.
  • Sammy’s Mexican Grill at 16502 N. Oracle Road in Catalina is offering free meals to anyone in the Tucson area who has lost their job as a result of the coronavirus. In a Facebook post last Friday, Sammy’s owners said they would “be glad to provide you with a fresh, warm meal, free of charge.” Sammy’s made headlines in early March after the Grupo de Palfeis Facebook group posted a screenshot image of Sammy’s owner Betty Rivas standing behind President Trump at his Feb. 19 Phoenix campaign rally. Rivas and her husband, Jorge, said the restaurant was the victim of negative crowd-sourcing online reviews and harassment as a result. Details:

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

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