The marquee in front of Solomon's Deli in downtown Sacramento. (Courtesy of Andrea Lepore)
They've been closed to the public for over a month, but early mornings are still busy at Solomon’s Deli in downtown Sacramento.
By 7:30 a.m., Solomon's co-founder and developer, Andrea Lepore, is in the kitchen with a box of donuts to share with the crew, who has already started prepping for the day: chopping vegetables, seasoning meat and blending sauces. It looks like a normal morning except that instead of the deli's usual pastrami sandwiches and bagels with lox, today’s menu is breakfast burritos — 500 of them.
Solomon's Deli had only been open nine months when the City of Sacramento declared its shelter-in-place orders.
"We really hadn't even really celebrated our grand opening," Lepore says.
Named after Russ Solomon (the founder of Sacramento-based Tower Records), Solomon’s Deli also serves as a live music spot. Sacramento bands Black Yacht Club, Jessica Malone and Jackie Greene were all slated to perform at the deli's second floor venue space (the "Russ Room"), but Lepore had to cancel all shows booked through June.
At first, Solomon’s did what many restaurants around the state did and switched to takeout and delivery orders only. But then Lepore heard that a local nonprofit was in need of a kitchen for meal prep.
"We obviously had [a kitchen], and we had some great kitchen cooks that needed work ... really within 24 hours we were back up and running."
Practically overnight, Lepore and her team turned Solomon’s Deli into a community kitchen — cooking meals for Sacramento’s elderly, unsheltered and medically vulnerable — the same people who have a high risk of contracting COVID-19.
They started making about 130 meals the first day. The food is all made from scratch and as "hearty as possible," Lepore says. So far, the menu has included chile verde, pasta bolognese, chicken teriyaki, curry and burritos. Lepore describes these as "things that are easy to eat, but also keep you full."
This community kitchen is a joint effort of many Sacramento partners. Kaiser Permanente, Sutter, Dignity and UC Davis Health System are all helping pay for the food and labor costs. Staff from the nonprofit Sacramento Covered arrive in the afternoon to pick up and then deliver the meals made at Solomon’s to 25 sites around the city.
This obviously isn’t what Lepore had in mind when she dreamed of opening her restaurant.
"But I do like the fact of feeling like I'm contributing and doing something and being around food, which I do love," Lepore says.
It’s not clear what’s going to happen to Solomon’s Deli. But Lepore is optimistic. When it comes to the future, she says right now she’s just focused on making healthy, delicious meals for people who need them. Plus, she’s no stranger to hard times in the restaurant business.
"When I opened my first restaurant it was 2009, which was, you know, at the time, the worst economy we had seen. We survived that. So I'm up for another challenge," Lepore says.
Which is good, because the future will certainly be challenging.