After Thursday morning’s delivery to local firefighters, the Plant City diner has now given out 1,018 free meals since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The Wooden Spoon’s mission to feed Plant Citians on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of slowing down.
At 9 a.m. Thursday morning, owner Manny Roussos and his crew visited Fire Station 2 to deliver 20 free meals to Plant City firefighters from both stations, as the two crews got together for a joint training day at the Alexander Street station.
“It’s super appreciated,” battalion chief Vince Kiffner said. “Wooden Spoon’s going out of their way to feed all the people on the front lines within the community.”
When the second meal of the morning was handed out, the diner hit a milestone. It started Thursday at a total of 998 meals donated to first responders, healthcare workers, essential workers and others in need in and around Plant City, so that second box put the diner at 1,000. It finished that morning with a total of 1,018 meals donated around the community.
“I’m just really proud how the Wooden Spoon has gone around to many different departments within our city, delivering meals to those that are on the front line and helping our citizens during this pandemic,” Mayor Rick Lott said. “I want to thank Wooden Spoon and others in our community that are stepping up to make things better in Plant City during these challenging times.”
The Wooden Spoon has also fed Solaris Healthcare, local nurse Erin Smude and her family, Grace Manor at Hunters Creek, South Florida Baptist Hospital, Brandon Regional Hospital and its Plant City-based emergency center, St. Joseph’s Hospital, Plant City’s post office, City Hall, Plant City Police Department and much more.
“Everything was hard for everybody,” Roussos said. “We just tried to think outside the box and think, ‘who had to go to work?’ A lot of restaurants shut down. We decided not to because we didn’t know what was going on with the money situation with our employees and stuff like that. We tried to keep at least one of our locations open — both of them, for the majority of the time — and help our people, our team members. As a result of that, we were like, ‘OK, who’s really dealing with this pandemic?’ It started with the E.R. and we were going to front liners and essential workers, eventually.”
Like many restaurants, the Wooden Spoon faced an extreme degree of uncertainty when COVID-19 precautions swept the nation in March and forced businesses like Roussos’ to completely change the way they operated — and take a major financial hit in the process. It’s been several months now and while the Plant City diner has been fortunate enough to not have to shut its doors for good shortly after first opening them, Roussos said restaurants like his aren’t out of the woods just yet. He estimates his own business is roughly 70 percent down from where it should be right now, but he wants to keep the restaurant open as long as possible so as to help keep the Wooden Spoon’s employees paid during uncertain times.
Taking a big hit, however, wasn’t going to stop the Wooden Spoon from making a positive impact in town.
After doing the first 300 meals out of its own pocket, the Wooden Spoon asked its customers and anyone else interested in helping to donate some money for the cause of feeding those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. The diner offered to match every donation. Roussos said the Plant City community has been extremely supportive of this movement.
“I want to say thank you to my guests… they were very generous,” Roussos said. “We were able to raise some money and that’s how we got to 1,000. Without my customers, we wouldn’t be able to do this. And regular people coming in to say ‘we want to donate $5 for a box of breakfast or lunch.’”
Roussos said the diner has also gotten donations of almost $900 from Rotech Healthcare in Lakeland and $1,280 from video game streamer Greek God Gaming.
The Wooden Spoon will keep donating meals as long as it’s financially able to do so.
“We just kept going and here we are, reaching 1,000,” Roussos said. “I’m not gonna stop until we feed everybody we can.”
The restaurant is located at 712 S. Collins St. It is open from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, but stays open until 8:30 p.m. on Fridays for dinner.