Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Chef Al of The Open Door Café

NOW: Natalie’s Everyday Heroes: Chef Al of The Open Door Café

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Several weeks ago, we introduced CBS 58 viewers to the tireless volunteers and staff at The Open Door Café at Milwaukee’s Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. They cook and serve a hot lunch to more than 80 people, six days week. But with the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the country, they had to make some changes. Their head chef, who goes by Chef Al, invited us back into his kitchen for an update.

“Normally, we had been doing hot lunches, but because we want everyone to be safe during this health crisis, we're going to create space,” Chef Al explained, “One way we can do that is by providing bagged lunches instead of in-house, seated lunches.”

Chef Al is used to dealing with challenges at The Open Door Café. He’s never quite sure what food he’ll have to work with, or how many people will need a meal. But the coronavirus is proving to be a new kind of challenge. Starting this week, they made the decision to close down the dining room.

“Change is something that is constant, and in the culinary world, you constantly have to deal with change,” he said.

The bustling dining room is quiet now, and there are no more steaming plates being served by volunteers. Instead, staff members and volunteers are busy putting together bag lunches. Chef Al said he knows his guests will adapt to the changes.

“Of course, they like the hot lunch and they prefer that first, but they do understand that this is a crisis, and everyone should maintain safety,” he explained.

The bag lunches allow the café to maintain social distancing that’s being advised during the Covid-19 pandemic. Inside, people will find peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and more.

“We also serve bologna, ham and cheese,” Chef Al said. “So each lunch will contain one meat sandwich and one peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”

There will also be a salty snack and a sweet snack, plus bottled water or a juice box. Chef Al estimated between 80 and 100 people will stop by to grab one. It’s a meal some people might not otherwise get.

The pandemic is also keeping some regular volunteers at home, which is another strain on the system.

“We do take a big hit because those are usually the people who are available on a consistent basis,” he said, of many retirees who volunteer their time. “And since businesses downtown could have employees come over on their lunch hour are closed, they're not able to come as they have previously.”

But, where there are hungry mouths to feed, Chef Al said he will find a way to make sure they have something to eat.

“Even in a crisis, people still have to eat, so we're going to do our part of help feed people during this time,” Chef Al said. “We're going to roll with it. We’re going to roll with it.”

The Open Door Café is always looking for donations of shelf-stable food items. For more information, click here. https://www.stjohncathedral.org/index.php/open-door-cafe/.

If you’d like to nominate someone for Natalie’s Everyday Heroes, just send Natalie an email at nshepherd@cbs58.com.

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