In response to COVID-19, chef Drew Smith of kō•än, alongside Kristen Baughman of Tabletop Media Group and Jenn Rice, a journalist and brand consultant, will spearhead ko.mmunity hub, an initiative to utilize the local food and beverage industry and its purveyors to help bridge the existing food supply gap within the community. This initiative will bring together a seamless hub day where the community can safely drive-through and pick up everything like groceries, curated artisanal boxes from local purveyors and farmers, and take and heat family meal kits from local chefs and restaurants — in one space.

Wake County and its neighboring food service economies are on the verge of collapse due to forced closures and social distancing to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The food supply chain is breaking — so we’re creating a new one,” says Smith. ko.mmunity hub is a central food hub that efficiently and safely feeds the Raleigh and Cary communities while also strengthening the local economy over the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak. “We are focusing on rebuilding the supply chain into something more local and sustainable while supporting our friends and farmers,” Smith adds.

“As restaurants closed their dining rooms six weeks ago, the food supply chain began to fall apart and local businesses’ income vanished overnight,” says Smith. “kō•än immediately pivoted to become a one-stop grocery and provide for our community, as well as support our local purveyors,” he adds. “Now we are creating a hub where local businesses can feature their goods or meals in a central location that offers contactless curbside pick-up and delivery.”

ko.mmunity hub was directly inspired by Carrboro United, a multi-weekly community hub in Carrboro, North Carolina, led by chef Kevin Callaghan of Acme. “I observed the first Carrboro United take place,” says Rice. “It was extraordinary to see Kevin Callaghan and his team execute this initiative so seamlessly,” she adds. “The Acme team was so gracious with answering questions and encouraging us to replicate a similar model within our community.”

Similar to the CSA (community-supported agriculture) model, consumers visit ko.mmunity hub online, which will live on kō•än’s website, to pre-purchase take and heat family-style meals from local chefs, produce boxes from local farmers, boxes of goods and products from local makers and artisans, and more. It will serve as a safe, easy and reliable platform for the community to support many businesses at once and keep the community fed, while supporting local businesses and farmers that are temporarily closed to the public.

The first hub day will kick off Saturday, May 9, from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m, at kō•än in Cary and orders for the first hub must be placed Thursday, May 7th, by 3 p.m. Hub goers will pick up their orders in a safe, touch-free drive-through, where hub staff will place items in the trunk. “We are excited to kick off with a variety of delicious family meals from local chefs and cool boxes from some of our outstanding purveyors and artisans,” says Rice. Botanist & Barrel and Boxcarr cheese teamed up to offer a cider and cheese picnic pack; Slingshot Coffee Co. is on board with a caffeinated trio of cold brew, coffee soda and coffee caramels; Sugar and Spice Bakery will sell an “Everything Nice” box to satisfy the sweet tooth and to help liven up at-home birthdays; Mama’s Salsa will offer two different homemade salsa duos with chips for snacking; and much more.

Family meals and chefs will rotate each week. A few highlights include Drew Smith from kō•än’s current Mother’s Day box; Kyle Teears from Whiskey Kitchen’s take and heat Chicken and Broccoli Casserole; STIR’s White Cheddar Mac and Cheese with Grilled Chicken; Under the Oak’s charcuterie kit; and Robinson Ferry’s take and heat Salmon with Parmesan Risotto family meal. In addition, ko.mmunity hub has a “feed your neighbor” tab with a focus on giving back and supporting non-profits. Current partnerships include A Place at the Table, where hub customers can tack on a full meal, a coffee or a general donation to pay-it-forward with their order, and Carroll’s Kitchen, where you can add in a donation to support healthy employment for women recovering from crisis.

ko.mmunity hub will continuously serve as a community connector and incubator to help restaurants, chefs, artisans and farmers bring in extra income and showcase their offerings in a different environment — without putting strain on their current business model. “This will serve as a platform for anyone from farmers to small restaurants to offer their products and help build revenue,” says Baughman. Future participants are encouraged to get in touch by emailing with details regarding what they’d like to sell through the hub.

Based off of response, ko.munnity hub is planning on expanding the idea further, doing pop-ups where completely shut down restaurants can bring in extra income by doing an exclusive family meal for one night only. They’re also thinking of using this platform to help with the launch of new products, such as Botanist and Barrel’s new wine and cider rosé hybrid in cans, all while helping bridge the sourcing gap within the community. “I think there are many opportunities to connect consumers with new products, and even a chef they’ve never had the pleasure of dining in their restaurant before,” Rice says. “This will ultimately make our community stronger and more cohesive,” she adds. “I also see this as a pivot model of something that chefs and restaurants can do long after COVID-19 has passed.”

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