As we approach the one-year mark of COVID-19’s devastating arrival in NYC, there is no shortage of stories eulogizing much-loved restaurants, bars, and venues that have succumbed to the pandemic’s successive assaults on the industry. But, just off the Ridgewood side of the L tracks, one local bar is persevering in spite of it all. This time last year, Jorge Mdahuar and Jon Gneezy had just celebrated an anniversary of an altogether different nature. “They always say after the three-year mark of owning a bar you’re in the clear,” Mdahuar says. “You can breathe after that.” But just two months after reaching this milestone, the duo were forced to lay off half their staff and shutter their dining room to the public. The hospitality industry was in freefall.
With no immediate government aid or direction, Mdahuar and Gneezy sought out their community to see what other needs weren’t being met. “We started asking our friends in healthcare if they’d be interested in hot meals,” Mdahuar says. Soon, the pair would be delivering upwards of 1,000 meals a week to the frontlines of Covid-19.
“This was in the early days when you’d just hear the ambulances screaming by,” Jorge says.
The pair began by fundraising $25,000 on “GoFundMe,” primarily donated by former patrons and friends of The Deep End. In the early days of the Coronavirus crisis, 24-hour hospitals like Wyckoff Heights Medical Center would shutter their cafeterias after dinner, leaving frontline workers without hot meals until the morning.
“We had friends who were working 48-hour shifts,” Jorge says. As the virus reached its crescendo in mid-April, Mdahuar and Gneezy were hand-delivering fresh meals to their friends and local healthcare workers, filling in the deficit of sustenance.
Once the dust settled on the city’s initial war against COVID-19, the former NYU roommates decided to continue servicing the community at large. “Helping Hearts” became the banner under which they now feed all five boroughs. But this isn’t the first time the two have been on the offense of aiding New York City during a crisis. “You know, we also did philanthropic work during [Hurricane] Sandy,” Gneezy says. “We had a food truck then and we went out and fed people.”
In terms of their offerings, the pair take great pride in the quality of what they’re producing. “We have people who say they look forward to our drop-offs because we focus on fresh ingredients and hot meals. Some of these other food donation services just drop a box of nonperishables at the door and that’s it,” Gneezy tells me. The level of food pouring out of the kitchen is in no small part due to the staff, many of whom have been with Mdahuar and Gneezy since The Deep End opened in 2017.
Looking forward, the two are optimistic. “We can’t wait to have events again,” Mdahuar says. “This whole endeavor has been about helping out and being a positive part of the community.”
The pair encourage anyone interested in supporting “Helping Hearts” to donate directly to their website. “People ask if they can volunteer, but we’d like to keep it streamlined in the kitchen,” Gneezy says. Ideally, the duo would like to see large corporations step up to the plate. “You know, someone like Nike or New York businesses. Somebody big who has the resources,” Mdahuar says.
16-year residents of New York, the two have battled L-train closures, hurricanes, power outages, and now a seemingly unending public health crisis.
“The thing we want the community to know is that we’re here,” says Mdahuar.
“And we’ll stay here,” adds Gneezy.
For now, they aren’t planning a return to serving the public until fairer weather arrives in the spring. The Deep End never reopened indoor dining for fear of exposing their staff and their patrons to the unwieldy nature of the virus, much of which is still unknown. But they have discovered in the interim a way to rework hospitality in a way they say puts the community first.
With so much uncertainty surrounding us, The Deep End seems to have carved out a hopeful direction for themselves and those they serve. As many businesses continue to grapple with changing directives and waning sales, Jorge and Jon have reimagined what it means to own a restaurant or bar. Perhaps the path forward is through mutual aid and outreach, not more capital and more SOPs.
Top image by Sara Edwards for Bushwick Daily.
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