Back to the Tenderloin

By Caryn Roth

We have begun to bring Love to Table back to the streets of the Tenderloin after the last year and a half delivering our farm-to-table meals through homeless shelters during the height of COVID. Two years ago, our then unknown, now dear friend Aref, generously opened his restaurant Z Zoul for us to use for our Love to Table pop ups, which we held monthly in his space until the pandemic hit. He continued in his own way to bring love by cooking for hospital workers and the elderly through the pandemic, and recently had a small fire in his restaurant. When we heard the news, we immediately planned a volunteer event to help him clean up and restore his — and our — restaurant. 

As we set up, a man walked by and stopped in front of the restaurant’s front door. We waited a moment and then walked over to see how we could help him. “Are you the cooking people?” He asked excitedly. We knew exactly in that moment that he meant us. “It’s been 16 months! Glad you’re back.”

We cleaned and organized all the crevices of the restaurant — thoroughly loving the space. The more we scrubbed the more we could feel layers of this past year dissolving, feeling the hardship the owner had been through to keep it going. We threw out old containers and trash and brought joy and smoothness into the place. We bought spices to replace his old plastic jars and ordered containers and other equipment to make the restaurant shine. The donated flowers we brought from Nigella SF added warmth and elegance.

While we cleaned, groups of volunteers passed out our garden veggie frittata, earl gray lavender cookies, and flowers. Everyone got a chance to connect with the folks on the streets, who received our food graciously and poured back love. It felt like we all opened our hearts and offered each other character, soul, and honesty.

One of our volunteers from SF later wrote to us and said, “Thank you. It was good for me. I live nearby and often think of these people as an annoyance to be avoided. This work helped me to see their humanity and inherent goodness. I’m grateful to you for organizing it.”

It was a beautiful day in which time moved fast, and we felt connected and aimed as a small and mighty crew moving energy forward after COVID and the fire. We want to help remodel and get Aref’s space back for him so we can keep bringing dignity through food to those hungry for it.