A long line formed outside of Ribeyes Steakhouse of Clinton as the aroma of burgers and steaks came from an outside grill. Inside the Clinton restaurant, a few cooks were challenged to make meals with no light.
With Hurricane Matthew leaving thousands without power for several days, Chef Ben Baker and employees were thrilled to make hot meals — for free.
“I know the power companies are at their max dealing with what happened after the storm,” Baker said about people waiting for restoration. “The community gives back to us, so we want to give back to our community as well.”
Baker came up with the idea Monday morning to give food later during the day. If Ribeyes charged for the food, the restaurant could have gained between $15,000 and $20,000. The restaurant served well over 600 people.
“This is one of things we’re doing from the heart,” Baker said about the restaurants operated by the owners, Kristen and Trey Cummings, who’ve donated thousands of dollars to the local community. “It’s one of those things we’re going to continue to do. As a chef myself personally, it’s one of the things I was taught – you can’t be selfish.”
The Ribeyes Team shared the same sentiments toward cooking the free food.
“Everyone is going through their own struggle,” Erick Rodriguez said while making meat sizzle on the grill. “We like helping out when we get a chance to. Hopefully, everybody can get together like this more than once. Storms and hurricanes shouldn’t be the only reason we’re getting together like this.”
Along with Rodriguez, Cook Paul Sweatt also enjoyed cooking for local residents.
“Everybody is losing things in their refrigerators and freezers and they’re stir-crazy in the house,” Sweatt said. “We’re trying to create a situation where they can get away from the depression of being in the house, so they can fellowship together.”
For Clinton resident Jessica Washington, Ribeyes’ efforts felt like a blessing. As a mother of five children, she was one of many residents throughout Sampson County without power on Monday.
“There’s not a lot of people out there with a heart like this,” Washington said while picking up steaks and salads. “For them to open their doors and give back to the community, it’s something you don’t see too often.”
Her neighbor Robin Goodman felt the same way about the giveaway and receiving a hot meal.
“We were worried about how we were going to feed our children,” Goodman said. “It’s truly a blessing and we thank them a lot.”
Southern Style assisted with storing the food before it was cooked. Ribeyes also received help from Jordan & Jordan, who brought over meat and others such as Chris Driver, owner of the nearby sweetFrog, who came by to give a hand to the cooks.
“It’s very generous for them to do something like this when there’s so many people without power,” Driver said. “I don’t know of any other restaurants doing anything like this. We want to help out any way we can.”
Employees were washing potatoes, carrying pans and filling in however they could. Like many other businesses in Sampson County, sweetFrog was also affected by wasted inventory.
“We don’t have the inventory to do something like this,” Driver said. “Our yogurt has gone bad and with no power, we can’t serve ice cream.”
Driver enjoyed seeing community members come together during a devastating moment.
“It’s unfortunate,” he said Monday. “We pray for everyone that was impacted. I still don’t have power, sweetFrog doesn’t have power, Ribeyes doesn’t have power. So we know there’s people who are struggling who are probably a lot off worse than we are. Anything that we can do get positive light in anybody’s life, we want to do so.”
Nichole Gautier, Ribeyes bar manager, said it was an awesome occasion.
“We’ve always been known for helping out when we can,” Gautier said about Ribeyes assisting the community. “When disaster hits like this, it’s great to be able to do stuff for the community. A lot of these people don’t have any food and a lot of people have gone out of food.”
Gautier said the free cookout gave people a chance to relax and not stress over their troubles related to the storm.
“We have a lot of people from all over the place,” she said. “Sampson County is kind of hard to get in and out of right now. So anything we can do to help, we’re here. The staff has always been like that. We’re big about the community and we love our community. It’s helped us out and we want to give back. This is our way of doing that.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.