On Monday night, as Las Vegas reeled from the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, a cadre of chefs from some of the city’s favorite restaurants cranked out hot dogs, tacos and tempura lobster tail in a food truck outside Spring Valley Hospital on the west side of the city.
While the mobile kitchen hummed, local writer and ABP contributor Jason Harris and Sparrow + Wolf chef de cuisine Justin Kingsley-Hall worked front of house, serving patients, doctors, nurses, police and victims of the Route 91 Harvest Festival attack that left 59 dead and more than 500 injured.
The impromptu dinner service was arranged by Jolene Mannina, Las Vegas culinary matchmaker and VP of culinary partnerships for vertical farm startup Urban Seed. Jorge Morales had brought his food truck fully stocked; the Goodwich’s Josh Clark added extra supplies, and STK Steakhouse at the Cosmopolitan Hotel & Casino provided the lobster. Other Mama chef/owner Dan Krohmer, who had kicked the whole plan into motion, lent a hand in the kitchen, while Mannina moved through the medical center, meeting victims who couldn’t leave their hospital beds and texting orders downstairs to the truck below.
In one room a girl from Texas who’d been shot in the thigh. In another, a 23-year-old woman who’d been shot in the head. Both surrounded by worried family members.
“I walked into their rooms and said we were downstairs cooking and donating food and wanted to bring them whatever they wanted,” Mannina said. “It was super emotional.”
In the hours and now days since the horrific shooting on the Strip, the Las Vegas food community has responded in force—with meals, manpower, love and pizza.
“Like everyone else, the first thought is how are we going to be able to help all these people?” says Chris Decker, chef and partner at Las Vegas institution Metro Pizza.
By 7:30 a.m. the morning after the shooting, Decker says the Metro team had a plan in place. By 9 a.m. pizza makers were working the ovens, and by 10 a.m. pies were heading out the door, destined to feed the volunteers lined up at United Blood Services and officers on duty at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Command Center.
“It’s not like there was this whole process of XYZ. It all just snowballed,” said Harris, who got drivers on the road to deliver those early Metro pies. Behind his day-job desk, Harris found himself directing donation traffic, sending friends around town to find out what was needed, then pairing restaurants and chefs with precincts, donation centers and hospitals.
Mannina, who heads the culinary advisory board for the Urban Seed Foundation, also started fielding phone calls.
“A lot of the restaurants reached out saying that they want to help. I just started coordinating. It just sort of happened,” she said. “The first day was so overwhelming. There were so many people that were like, ‘I have food. I have food.’ Everyone really came together.”
Over the course of Monday and Tuesday, Harris and Mannina—along with the Urban Seed Foundation and an informal team of cooks, friends and volunteers—orchestrated hundreds of meals for first responders, victims and their families: 200 sandwiches from Sparrow + Wolf for officers on the Strip, Grouchy John’s coffee and Jessie Rae’s BBQ at University Medical Center, breakfast for cops from Hakkasan Group and The Black Sheep, lunch from Fat Choy.
Royden Ellamar, who runs the kitchen at the Bellagio’s Harvest, teamed up with Le Pho’s Khai Vu to bring dinner to Desert Springs Hospital. Yardbird and Chica at the Venetian offered free meals to first responders with ID. Ronnie Rainwater, chef of Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico Steakhouse, secured a food truck to deliver hot meals. Naked City Pizza owner Chris Palmeri cooked up 8,000 slices at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that volunteers chauffeured around town.
Chefs who usually serve carefully crafted meals at places like Charlie Palmer’s Aureole and Momofuku turned their attention to sandwiches, box lunches and simple dinners. The food truck community came together to cook at UMC. Deliveries went out to police postings, ambulance workers, the coroner’s office and the convention center. (And this is far from an exhaustive list. To see more restaurants who’ve pitched in, click here.)
“As tragic as the shootings were and are, the outpouring of love and compassion and humanity … it just has me in tears.”
At Metro Pizza, customers grabbed pies for volunteers, and even out-of-state strangers placed orders to feed Las Vegas.
“We got a call from UCLA Medical Center. The nurses there were buying pizzas for the nurses at UMC,” the only level-one trauma center in the city, which received many of the victims after the shooting. “They didn’t know anybody there,” Decker adds. “That was really amazing.”
At Downtown pizzeria Evel Pie, managing partner Branden Powers spent Monday sending pizzas wherever they were needed with whomever could deliver them—to blood banks and hospitals, ferried by volunteers and celebrities. Former Girl Next Door Kendra Wilkinson, who currently stars in a show at Paris Las Vegas, walked in and asked, How can I help? What can I do?
“She grabbed a big fat stack of pies, and she was just excited to go out and help,” Powers said.
He estimates that the restaurant went through at least a couple hundred pizzas Monday, and when Evel Pie ran out of dough, customers and staff started assembling care packages and toiletry kits for victims and their families who face uncertain stays in the city.
“As tragic as the shootings were and are, the outpouring of love and compassion and humanity … it just has me in tears,” he said.
“It’s just putting the puzzle pieces together at this point,” Harris said. “Just tell me what you need and I’ll get it to you.”
Harris doesn’t see the outpouring of support and sustenance as unique to Vegas. “Chefs are going to do what they’re going to do,” he said.
If Sunday’s atrocity had happened in New York or Chicago or Los Angeles, he believes, cooks would still be stepping up and into the kitchen to show their love and compassion by making food, feeding those who’ve been too busy saving lives or caring for loved ones to stop for a bite.
“That’s what this business is all about. That’s what cooking is all about,” said Metro Pizza’s Decker. “I’m just doing what I know how to do, and hopefully it helps somebody at some point. We know that everyone needs to eat.”
Powers agrees, and seeing Las Vegas rise to face this tragedy, has reminded him of what the city does best. “We’re hospitality. That’s what we do. It is in our DNA; it’s who we are. It’s who Las Vegas is.”
Jolene Mannina and Urban Seed are working with the food and entertainment community to organize an event next week to benefit victims of the Las Vegas shooting. We’ll add more details as they’re available.