Chris Wietecha, owner of Providence Bagel, did not let the pandemic get him down. From the onset of the coronavirus, Wietecha was prepared to help. “My wife works in health care and was on the front lines when the pandemic first happened. She came home and was totally stressed out—they’re at work, they’re not eating, they’re struggling just to stay afloat. Meanwhile, I also saw local businesses struggling, so I thought: If I can get people to donate money, we’ll buy gift cards and we’ll give them directly to healthcare workers so they can have lunch.”
On April 2, 2020, Wietecha partnered with Jim Nellis and Robin Dionne to launch the first of several RI Feeds Our Heroes campaigns, raising more than $30k that went directly to restaurants for gift cards. In addition, Providence Bagel donated another $1,500 in gift cards without accepting any of the money themselves.
“I knew there were plenty of other people who needed it more than us,” Wietecha explained. “I guess that’s just who I am. And it worked out fine! Maybe it was some sort of karma,” he said with a laugh.
In addition to gift cards and bagels, Wietecha also opened his restaurant for a “Doomsday Drive-Thru” initiative, allowing businesses with no retail space to pop up at Providence Bagels in the evenings. “We gave up our restaurant/facility so that businesses who’d been popping up elsewhere pre-pandemic — at farmers’ markets, breweries, etc. — could continue operating their business at no cost. As long as they cleaned up and respected the space, I didn’t set too many parameters.” Some of the local businesses that used the space include Dips Dips, Basil and Bunny, Wally’s Hot Dog Cart, Dump Truck, Bobby’s Bar Pizza and Lost Boys Taco Shop.
“From day one, our biggest priority has been helping the community. We work with the Elisha Project, giving away our extras to them at the end of every day. We never throw stuff away,” Wietecha said. Currently, they are offering Girl Scout Cookie Inspired Coffees, and will donate money from those drinks back to the Girl Scouts.
“At the end of the day it just goes to show that this is a strong community. Through all the things this country has had this year, people can still come together like this, when we need it most.”