Overheard Conversation Prompts NYC Restaurateur to Offer Free Meals to Federal Workers

What to Know

  • The government has been shut down for over a month and local restaurants are doing their best to extend helping hands to federal employees.
  • Brother Jimmy’s, an NYC-based southern barbeque restaurant, announced today that it will offer free lunches to federal workers this week.
  • Several other restaurants in New York have announced free meal deals to government workers who show valid identification.

A conversation overheard between two unpaid TSA workers at John F. Kennedy airport has prompted one New York restaurant owner to offer federal employees free meals, and other local eateries are following suit.

With federal employees all but guaranteed to miss a second pay check due to the longest-ever government shutdown, local restaurants are doing their best to extend helping hands where they can.

On Wednesday Brother Jimmy’s, a New York-based southern barbecue restaurant, announced it will be offering free lunches to federal workers this week. From Wednesday to Friday complimentary lunches will be given to those who present a valid ID at any of the chain’s New York locations.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 40 government workers had claimed their free lunch at the Madison Square Garden location according to owner Jimmy Goldman. 

Goldman was inspired to offer free lunch to government workers after he overheard a conversation between two TSA employees while flying out of JFK. One of the workers asked his colleague to borrow money for breakfast.

"I'm sitting there loading my stuff in the tray, and it just became very real," Goldman said. "It just really bothered me. When I landed, I called my managers and said we have to do something for these people."

Brother Jimmy’s is offering a curated menu for federal workers that include a combo of a variety of entrees, sides and drinks. The restaurant has participating locations in the city by Madison Square Garden and in Murray Hill, as well as in Westchester, Stanford, CT and West Palm Beach, FL. Brother Jimmy's is currently considering an expansion of the offer. 

“We wanted to provide our federal employees with complimentary lunch to show our appreciation,” Goldman said.

Several other New York restaurants have opened their doors to federal employees.

In the city, restaurants owned by Michael Sinensky — including Juice Shop, Shushi by Bou and Sidebar — are serving complimentary meals until the government reopens through what he calls the Funbars Government Meal Plan.

Federal workers can also get a $20 credit at Rocco’s Tacos in Brooklyn, free hot dinner and groceries at Masbia Soup Kitchen and food and beer at Mikkeller Brewing.

Upstate, Seneca Resorts and Casinos is offering free buffets Monday’s to Friday’s in January, SPoT Coffee in Kenmore is offering free coffee and Misuta Chows in Buffalo is offering free meals every day of the week.

Additionally, the Food Bank of Western New York is providing both non-perishable and fresh foods to government workers through a number of food distribution sites.

There are also a number of national chains that are offering free meals, including sandwich joint Potbelly and Italian fast-casual Fazoli’s.

It’s uncertain how much longer the shutdown will last. Around 800,000 federal employees have been furloughed or working without pay since the government shut down on Dec. 22.

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