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Chef Isaac Toups and Partner/Wife Amanda Toups Launch Non-Profit

NEW ORLEANS – Like the many chefs and restaurateurs who were challenged during the COVID-19 pandemic, husband-and-wife team Isaac and Amanda Toups needed to pivot and transformed their Mid-City New Orleans restaurant, Toups Meatery, into an exclusively to-go kitchen. During this time the couple also began producing what became a daily series of free to-go meals for employees and their families.

“Anyone who works in the restaurant business knows the tradition of ‘family meal’,” said Amanda. “It’s a time for the team to be together, break bread and have a few laughs before the stress of service. During COVID there was more than enough stress to go around and with many suddenly jobless, one of the biggest stresses for people was how they were going to pay for necessities, like food. So, we started giving away boxed ‘family meals’ and before we knew it, we had 500 people a day with a line around the block.”

In fact, in the 18 months the duo ran Toups Family Meal they produced and distributed close to 100,000 meals to food insecure residents throughout New Orleans. “It was controlled chaos,” says Amanda, who tracked orders and recipients through text threads and Google sheets. “I’m sure there was a more streamlined way to do it but we just jumped in and made it happen. And it turned out to be one of the most rewarding things Isaac and I have ever done.” Flash forward to Spring 2024. Toups Family Meal is on hiatus and business is “back to usual” when Louisiana governor Jeff Landry declined more than $70 million in federal funds designated for kid meals during summer, when school is out breakfast and lunch programs are suspended. “We couldn’t abide the decision and so we brought Family Meal back, starting with Easter boxes,” adds Amanda. Word soon spread, augmented by the Toups’ own social media efforts, and within weeks Amanda was getting calls left and right from locals, fellow non-profits, even hospitals in search of a helping hand to feed food insecure patients once they’re discharged. “COVID might ‘be over’ but the underlying problems in our community and our country aren’t going anywhere. So we’re doing what we can to help.”

Self-funded but now buoyed by donations sent through Venmo and CashApp (for details see toupsfamilymeal.comToups Family Meal is as part of Isaac and Amanda’s daily life as is raising their family and running their restaurant. Located at 845 North Carrollton Avenue in Mid-City, New Orleans, Toups Meatery is now so much more than a great restaurant; it is a commissary kitchen; meal and grocery distribution center and a delivery hub, working with a small army of volunteer drivers/delivery people. “The amount of people who have come out and lent their time, money, support and energy has been eye-opening for us,” says Isaac, who has been nominated multiple times for a James Beard: Best Chef South award and widely considered a defining talent in the NOLA food world. “It’s easy to become cynical and feel beaten by the darkness in the world but there are good people out there who care and want to do good. It’s about finding them and surrounding yourself with them. Sometimes it’s the only way to gain some light against the dark.”

The 2023-2024 New Orleans school year just concluded and Family Meal is just beginning its current summer season. Its first delivery in early June consisted of 3,186 meals to 531 food insecure households in New Orleans across 45 different routes. The program is currently set to produce 40 meals a month for close to 500 kids; that is two meals a day, seven days a week. No meager feat and one that requires capital to execute. Meals will be distributed every Tuesday and Friday with the cost of food and labor costing the program between $12K-$14 per week. At its current state, Family Meal will run out of funding by the end of June 2024 and needs to raise close to $120K to make sure that everyone in need is fed through August 2024.


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