Brooklyn restaurateur serving up free meals for those struggling during crisis

A worker at The Bergen in Crown Heights prepares meals for the many people expected to need to eat.

Ty Brown opened up the Bergen Restaurant in Brooklyn on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day with tremendous optimism that he will be a success, while helping his community by feeding children with free meals.

Then the coronavirus hit New York City, and the restaurant on Bergen Avenue in Crown Heights had to pivot. Brown temporarily changed his eatery into a community food pantry, providing free meals to help those who are unemployed and down on their luck during the crisis.

The business has become a natural extension of his youth program, Run Brooklyn United Music and Arts Program on Gates Avenue and Ralph Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, where he is able to bring food to the children that he serves.

While some businesses are having to lay employees off, Brown just hired eight more workers, increasing his staff to 17 in order to keep up with the demand from the public for his free meals. The restaurant serves about 150 people per day, while also continuing his take out and delivery menu to the community.

The free meals that he provides currently consist of turkey or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with bags of chips for lunch; and spaghetti with fried chicken, white rice broccoli and mixed vegetables for dinner.

This is one of the free meals offered to the public.

Up until now, Brown has been relying on donations and has received $2,500 from his fundraising. In addition, he received a commitment from vegan food giant Beyond Meat for 100 palates of products, containing 100 boxes each, consisting of artificial chicken, sausage and meat products that have been very successful with the public including at places like Dunkin Donuts and Burger King.

As a result of the food donation, he expects to distribute 3,000 bags of food to the public in front of his restaurant. He also expects the crowds to grow, and he will draw on the NYPD to help keep lines in order, with social distancing “a must.”

“We are expecting the lines to get longer and we will provide it without thinking twice,” Brown said, as he continued to teach new employees the ropes. “This is not just in Crown Heights, but people are coming here, walking or taking the bus to come grab lunch or dinner and bring it back to their families. This is a rough time for many people and we want to help.”

Brown said he expects to get a delivery date from Beyond Meat in the next two days, and the restaurant is “honored to have been selected for such a large donation, for a company that just started only weeks ago.”

In the meantime, Brown is looking to get the word out to the public that they are seeking donations and any assistance to help the public. All donations are accepted, and Brown is happy to receive it.

An employee prepares take out meals, which is keeping people employed.
Lunch bags for kids are lined up ready for pick up.

“We try to identify those needs for food, care packages for people and now that COVID-19 is on the rise, and schools have closed, we stated offering brown bag lunches to the kids and then we added dinner,” Brown said. “Long-term, this is a sad story because it’s not just about the unemployed, but those people who are just trying to make ends meet. In a country so rich with churches at every corner, how dare us as business owners not to help the community thrive?”

The restaurant has a webpage for regular ordering at thebergenbk.com. Donations can be made at bkunitedmb.com to help the emergency feeding program. Their cash app is $bu2018 and Venmo at $thebergenbk

Ty Brown looks over the prepared meals for the public before distribution.

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