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Eats in Queens Restaurant Month, Bringing Queens Together For The Greater Good

“We are a boots-on-the-ground, Queens-based organization, helping to promote restaurants and provide food relief to those in need.” - Jonathan Forgash, Executive Director, Queens Together.

Queens Together, a nonprofit restaurant association, and brainchild of Jonathan Forgash, was officially formed in March 2020 amid the emergence of Covid-19 in response to two problems: the pandemic’s impact on this NYC borough’s restaurant industry and food insecurity across Queens. An organization created to empower, represent and support the local restaurant community, the “Plate It Forward” program fed frontline workers and people facing food and economic insecurity at a time they needed it most.

A network of Queens restaurants and community groups working together in NYC’s largest borough, Queens Together is marking the association’s three-year anniversary this year, as the group continues to make its mission to support the borough with programs that bring restaurants, the business community, and those in need together.

Executive Director, Jonathan Forgash, brought his 25 years of experience as a chef, entrepreneur, and marketing expert to create Queens Together, an organization that started as an idea sparked by frustration.

How it began

“When the pandemic hit in 2020, from out of the blue, (the crisis) presented one of the most desperate problems the city has ever faced— both for people in the community in desperate need of food and for restaurants in dire need of financial support,” Forgash recalled.

With the closures in the food industry came job losses by the thousands, and a loss of revenue for the restaurants in the millions. Forgash saw a vacuum and he sought out ways to fill the void.

“We began preparing meals for hospital workers on the front lines that were risking their lives every day to help others,” he explained.

“We quickly realized there were everyday citizens stuck at home without access to food as well,” he added.

“In addition to being physically quarantined in their homes and unable to travel to the limited supplies in grocery stores,” Forgash continued, “many food service workers were losing their jobs or facing their income being cut in half due to a loss of a second job,” being forced to choose between paying rent, buying medicine, and feeding their families.

Community Heroes

“Restaurants were truly community heroes during the early days of the pandemic,” Forgash recalled. “They were struggling themselves, many losing money with every passing day…unable to manage their own family finances,” he continued. “We worked with, and paid the restaurants to do what they do best—nourish people with freshly made culturally appropriate meals.” We also worked hard to get the word out on who these businesses were and what they were doing for the neighbors during the pandemic.”

Forgash formed a group of volunteers to go out into the community and find out who was in the most desperate need. The volunteers were people out of work or working remotely, community organizers, and other members of the community who wanted to help with the cause. Volunteers not only worked in the food pantry and went door-to-door seeking support, but many also stepped up offering their services and expertise from photography, copywriting, and marketing to building the website and documentary work.

Queens Together partnered with cultural community groups so that they could understand and work with people speaking other languages. “This went two ways. They were able to get food into the hands of people facing food and economic insecurity,” Forgash explained, “and then the same groups worked with Queens Together to get grant information into the hands of restaurant owners in a variety of languages. They became the trusted neighborly faces of Queens Together across the borough.”

Forgash then began to reach out to his contacts in the media and PR agencies to gather free promotional support for restaurants, that needed help.

“I got in front of the press to let the public know who these restaurants were and what they were doing to help. It was a financial boost for these businesses when they really needed it.”

Once again, Forgash pivoted, realizing there was a great need for distribution channels. When the USDA initiated a program to deliver food directly into the communities, “huge amounts of food were pouring in and I knew we needed to tilt our efforts to organize these massive food donations,” he added.

Because the organization had no infrastructure at this point, Forgash got together with the Astoria Boys and Girls Clubs to host a mass distribution point and food pantry each week.

“We got the word out to local pantries and food banks that they could take food as long as they picked it up themselves.”

Community advocacy is also essential to Queens Together. For Thanksgiving 2022, the organization ran a food drive that helped over 3,600 families. 140-plus volunteers turned out to help distribute Thanksgiving turkeys, fresh hams, and halal chickens at the Variety Boys and Girls Club in Astoria.

“Students from three high schools, neighbors, and community groups showed up that day to get the job done.”

And local restaurants, including Dino's Pizzeria, Trattoria L'incontro, and Fresh Start Organic donated enough food to feed the entire crew.

Raising over $300,000 during Covid, mostly from small donations, Forgash began to see the power of community in action. That’s when he knew he needed to take Queens Together to the next level.

When the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) became public law in 2021, and established the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, providing restaurants with funding equal to their pandemic-related revenue loss, Forgash helped to get the word out to the community. A trusted community group leader by this point, people stepped up to help translate the plan into various languages to make sure restaurants all over Queens could apply and try to recover their much-needed losses.

Jonathan Forgash literally saw the light during some of the darkest days for the restaurant industry.

“The silver lining of Covid was that we realized when communities work together, they can take care of themselves.”

Forgash believes that “if you get the right people together “in a room,” so to speak, great things can happen.

What is Queens Together?

Queens Together, a department of the Queens Economic Development Corporation, is now a nonprofit organization created to connect restaurants in Queens with resources, promotional opportunities, and members of the community in good times and bad.

Together, the association is creating one voice to represent, empower, and support food service businesses and community organizations with the tools, funds, and connections they need.

By becoming a member, restaurants can work to support one another and nourish the community at the same time.

Queens-based restaurants and food businesses are invited to join Queens Together. There is absolutely no cost to join, no dues to pay, and no hidden fees of any kind.

Eat at Queens Restaurant Month

One of the greatest accomplishments of Jonathan Forgash’s Queen’s Together organization is Eats in Queens Restaurant Month, taking place during the entire month of March.

“Because NYC GO holds their Restaurant Weeks in January and February, we decided to hold ours in March, while business is still slow, and run it for the entire month. We tied it to a fundraiser to raise even more money for food relief.”

This is the very first year for the EATS IN QUEENS restaurant month and already it has become the biggest restaurant promotion and food relief fundraiser in Queens’ history. The group is forecasting a record-high number of participants in 2023’s event. As many as 200 local restaurants are expected to participate. There are currently 190 participating restaurants in Queens that have raised over $22,000 for food relief. Their goal is now to raise $40,000 by the end of the month.

The public can support restaurants by dining at the participating restaurants and help with food relief in the community by making donations. “It’s a win-win.”

How It Works

When a customer donates $25 or more to Queens Together, they receive a discount pass to use at participating restaurants during Eats in Queens Restaurant Month. Customers can enjoy unlimited use of the discount passes from March 1st to March 31st and use them to dine in person or order delivery directly on the restaurant’s websites.

“Customers can go to any participating restaurant, as many times as they’d like. Guests just need to show them that the donation was [given] on their phones,” said Forgash. “and the discount is taken off of the bill after the meal. It’s that simple.”

Restaurants that participate are compensated not just in increased sales but through various methods of PR and advertising across local marketing channels. “Through our Eat at Queens Newsletter, we’ve helped promote over 600 members with over 1,000 promotions,” Forgash added.

Restaurants can still get involved in Restaurant Week. There is no cost involved, and by attaching themselves to this powerful organization, they receive multiple opportunities for new customers, press coverage, and promotions through Jonathan’s continued and constant efforts to help the restaurant industry in the Queens community.

Forgash added that the pass can be used multiple times and at all the restaurants involved with “Eats in Queens.”

“We’re all about getting people to come back to the restaurant,” added Forgash, “as well as encouraging customers to order directly from restaurants’ websites to avoid third-party fees.”

The restaurant list for “Eats in Queens Restaurant Week” stretches all across Queens and represents cuisines as diverse as the borough itself.

They include JUJU, Thai Rock in Far Rockaway, Urban Vegan Root, Burger Village, Neir's Tavern, The Nest, Zaab Zaab in Elmhurst, and a long list of diverse cuisine representing just about every nation on earth, from Bangladesh to Bhutan, Mexico to the Mediterranean, Thailand to Turkey, Japan to Jamaica… and the list goes on.

According to Forgash, after the promotion has ended, Queens Together plans to work with community groups and restaurants to feed the neighbors who need it most.

And the word is getting around fast! Government leaders like Senator Chuck Schumer, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC,) former congresswoman Caroline Maloney, and NYC Councilwoman, Julie Won have stood by Jonathan and the Queens Together organization since day one, proving that this is much more than a temporary fix for a difficult time; rather it’s a long-term solution to a previously-overlooked problem.

Eat in Queens Restaurant Week is supported by a wide variety of generous sponsors, including Yelp, The Mets, Queens Economic Development Corporation (QEDC,) various media organizations, and Sauce, just to name a few.

Jonothan Forgash had an idea, a way of helping his community during difficult times while supporting restaurants, the heroes of the pandemic. Restaurants are the centerpiece of the community, meeting places where folks come to celebrate, mourn, and socialize, and the last few years have proven that they are also community champs during good times and bad.

Finding ways for restaurants, the business community, the local media, government officials, and the people living in the borough to join forces for the greater good is what Queens Together is all about.

By Eileen Strauss


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