Hope for the Hungry
It’s one thing when you’re stuck with leftovers, wondering what to do with the surplus food.
But when you’re faced with commercial freezers full of meat and you plan to open a fresh, responsibly sourced seafood restaurant, there’s more to consider than making soup or throwing together some hash.
Michael and Rebecca Pichetto confronted that dilemma three years ago as they worked to open 3rd & Ferry Fish Market in downtown Easton. They had catered the Vintage Restaurant at the Club at Morgan Hill in Williams Township, which had closed, and they inherited more meat and other provisions than they could possibly use at the restaurant.
“We were standing there with all this food and nothing to do with it,” Michael Pichetto recalled. “While talking with employees about how to put it to good use, the idea came up to call Safe Harbor and cook for the residents.”
On March 30, 2015, Safe Harbor invited about 100 people who stay or come for lunch at the shelter on Bushkill Drive in Easton to a free buffet of carved top beef round, pulled pork, Tuscan-style chicken, fresh vegetables, salad, and dessert.
A second buffet was held last September, attracting about 180 people. Now the staff at 3rd & Ferry Fish Market serves up the lunchtime buffets once a quarter on Mondays, when the restaurant is closed.
“My goal is to serve 200 each time,” said Pichetto, who has extended the invitation to people served by downtown churches, the Easton Housing Authority and the Third Street Alliance for Women & Children.
“The great thing about it is they reached out to us,” said Janice Thomas, director of homeless services at the Third Street Alliance for Women & Children of Easton, which provides a safe haven for women and their families, including day care and before-and after-school programs for elementary school students.
“It was really amazing,” she continued. “Previously, our residents didn’t participate. But once the Pichettos contacted me, I put together an actual invitation saying that you were invited to a meal at 3rd & Ferry Fish Market.”
Thomas said Third Street Alliance residents had walked past the restaurant quite often and recognized it as a quality establishment out of their reach. “When they received the formal invitation to dinner, and their children were welcome, too, the reaction was, ‘are you kidding me?’” she said.
Excited about the opportunity, the ladies got dressed up and prepared for the big day.
“But that’s not the miracle of it,” said Thomas, who attended the first time the meal was extended to her residents.
“Once we walked in, you did not feel as if this was something they were doing for people of less means,” she recalled.
“The stigma was not there. Everyone was treated with the utmost respect,” Thomas said. “The food was excellent, and everyone chatted and cackled with delight because they had not been out to dinner in a very long time. They gave them a true dining experience. It was absolutely amazing.”
The 3rd & Ferry Fish Market will hold its seventh buffet on Dec. 12, and Thomas is already putting together another formal invitation for her residents.
“We’ve just been blown away by the support we’ve received from sponsors like Five Rivers Development, a local contractor, and Covenant Bank, and the by the generosity and hard work of our employees,” Pichetto said. “For this month, Tab Bruno, the restaurant supervisor, has put together a Christmas theme with Santa and presents and is encouraging people to bring their kids.”
He describes the experience as humbling.
“We always serve a carved meat,” Pichetto said. “I still remember hearing from one woman who hadn’t eaten meat in six years. You just become very thankful for what you have and become more encouraged to do a little more for people in need.”
It’s also about bringing dignity to people, by taking another elegant step beyond presenting a first-class spread, Pichetto noted.
“Nothing against the good work done by soup kitchens and churches, but we’ve tried to provide an experience beyond plastic plates and cups,” he said. “This gives people an opportunity to eat at our restaurant on china with silverware and servers bringing drinks.”
“One Safe Harbor resident described it as normalcy,” Pichetto said. “They don’t get normalcy that often. This is a moment to step away from life’s difficulties for some needed luxury during a time and circumstance when people may need it most.”
Easton “is loaded with good-hearted people who support what we’re doing,” added Pichetto, originally from northern New Jersey, who met his wife, originally from Washington, N.J., while serving together on a management team at a Marriott property in Bridgewater, N.J.
“We’ve just fallen in love with Easton and its spirit,” he added. “We never expected this kind of attention. We’re just grateful that we’ve found a way to give back to the community in a meaningful way.”
As the staff at 3rd & Ferry Fish Market prepares for the Dec. 12 buffet, Pichetto, a chef for 25 years, said he can count on his employees to report early, some with their kids, who pour water for the guests and set the tables and prepare the buffet for people seeking a break in their difficult, challenging routines.
“They do it out of their hearts; they’re not paid,” he said. “It’s really a good, positive thing to observe, and this is something we want to keep going.”
Thomas summed it up this way, “The people at 3rd & Ferry Fish Market are giving a very important and priceless gift, a sense of dignity, if only for a few minutes. It’s awesome, and the owners’ hearts are so big.”