Laguna Chef Launches Food Co-Op to Serve Frustrated Shoppers

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Nirvana Grille executive chef Lindsay Smith-Rosales and chef Onesimo Martinez organize fresh produce scheduled to be picked up by co-op participants Tuesday. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Nirvana Grille executive chef Lindsay Smith-Rosales was scrolling through her newsfeed on Friday and was shocked by a friend’s photo of empty shelves at a Trader Joe’s.

This moment was the inception of her idea to run a food co-op out of her Downtown Laguna Beach restaurant. Smith-Rosales realized she could tap food wholesalers that are running on skeletal crews after their clients slashed their orders last week due to the coronavirus.

“As a restaurant owner, if my vendors have product and they don’t have the demand then why aren’t they sharing that?” Smith-Rosales said Monday.

The Centers for Disease Control’s recommendation that the public should not gather in groups of 10 or more has shaken the hospitality industry, forcing many restaurants, cafes and coffee shops to scale-back operations to take-out and delivery only.

Orange County Health Officer Nichole Quick plans to order a ban on public and private gatherings on Tuesday, March 17, which would effectively close the county’s bars and breweries and end dining in restaurants, Voice of OC reports.

Rather than a death-blow, Smith-Rosales saw the crowded grocers and closed eateries as both a community service and business opportunity.

She sees the run on grocery stores as a sign that people are acting out of fear. As the mother of an 11-year-old and three-year-old, plus the employer of 15 people, fear is simply not an option for Rosales.

“When we allow that to happen we don’t allow what’s possible to be created,” she said. “Whenever I’ve had a challenge in my life, fear is always what has stopped me.”

After sharing her plans for a co-op on social media, 85 people shared their phone numbers and emails with Smith-Rosales to order groceries, cleaning supplies, and other household necessities. Essentially overnight, Smith-Rosales created an online grocery store for Nirvana Grille at nirvana-grille.myshopify.com.

The co-op is offering produce, meat, seafood, pastas, sauces, and bread. These were items customers said they couldn’t find at local supermarkets.

Smith-Rosales said orders can be placed anytime and her team is now fulfilling them the same-day from 3 to 7 p.m. Those with questions can contact Nirvana Grille at 949-497-0027 or [email protected]

Meanwhile, Nirvana has also created a to-go menu of A la Carte meals to feed 2 to 12 people. These orders also need to be placed by 12 p.m. the day prior to pick-up or delivery.

Lindsay and husband Luis Rosales are also business partners in Nirvana Grille and rely on the restaurant to support their household. She admits that it’s stressful thinking about how to keep revenue coming in this week so she can make payroll next week.

She eventually got to bed at 2:30 a.m. on Tuesday and was awake four hours later to place last-minute grocery orders with her vendors.

“I feel if I’m not helping to make things better everything will collapse beneath me so I never stop,” she said. “My only focus is how do we keep money coming through the door.”

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