For the first time since high school, Lena Sareini doesn’t have a job to go to. The James Beard-nominated Selden Standard pastry chef has been sheltering in place with her family since being laid off more than a month ago. “I went from working 50 to 60 hours a week to, ‘Oh, what do I do?’” Sareini says. To keep busy, Sareini has thrown all of her energy into a new project: Starting a Youtube channel.
Each week, Sareini, with help from her social media-influencer and photographer parents Catherine and Fred Sareini, films an episode in which she demonstrates a cooking or baking technique to her followers. The first week, she leaned into the zeitgeist of sourdough bread baking. For another episode, she demonstrated how to plate a restaurant-quality dessert. Sareini even delved into making cultured butter — something she thought that parents could do with restless kids during the Michigan stay-at-home order.
Sareini is far from alone in her push to create online content. As local members of the food industry have been cut off from their regular service jobs, many have turned to social media and instructional videos as a way to channel their energy and skills into at-home entertainment. Some are even using their platforms to promote charitable causes that benefit unemployed restaurant and bar staffers in need.
Melanie Mack is part of a group of several Detroit bartenders who’ve organized the social media account @Split_Base_Detroit to help their community. Through fundraising and outreach, the group is providing meals and supplies such as diapers and baby wipes to families of service industry staffers. Mack, who is a bartender at Menjo’s and Tangent Gallery, says she’s able to focus her attention on helping others in part because her partner is able to work from their home in Ferndale. She’s promoting her Venmo fundraising through daily cocktail demonstrations on her personal Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Each evening, she and her partner set up a video stream around 9 p.m. using an iPhone and a handheld camera stabilizer. Mack says she usually picks the drinks of the day on a whim, often inspired by her daily musical selections or the cocktail recipes she’s become known for. And because many of her friends are in recovery, she also includes recipes for mocktails.
“I try to keep it simple. I don’t want people to feel intimidated by making cocktails at home,” Mack says. She herself has found it difficult to shop for ingredients like limes right now, but is fortunate to be able to draw from the many spirits in her home bar collection.
“I try to make things as comprehensible as possible for people to make at home using their own ingredients,” Mack says. Each of her videos concludes with a link to her Venmo account, where viewers can donate. The proceeds go directly to purchasing supplies for the community.
In Cass Corridor, Willis Show Bar launched its online streaming series not long after Michigan closed bars and restaurants for dine-in service on March 16. Each Friday at 8 p.m., the bar uses its Facebook page to air Willis at Home, an online concert featuring local performers, and then uploads the video to the Detroit cocktail bar’s YouTube channel.
Normally, Willis Show Bar would provide a venue for dozens of performers each month in addition to work for its regular staff, owner Sean Patrick tells Eater from his home in California, where he’s been living since stay-at-home orders were put into effect. However, the novel coronavirus outbreak has put both service industry workers and performers out of commission.
Patrick says the bar anticipated an extended closure and in the days leading up to Michigan’s first executive orders came up with a plan to help its staff and musical artists that included both a GoFundMe campaign and Venmo donations promoted through the Willis at Home series. Willis Show Bar brought in employees ahead of the dine-in closures to record cocktail demonstrations on camera, and also drew on several years of its promotional footage of bands shot outside of business hours. One of only two staffers remaining on payroll is now responsible for editing each episode. “We’re getting close to our goal, so that we can pay off these musicians and also our staff,” Patrick says, noting that many financial safety nets are unreliable—the state unemployment agency, for example, is taking weeks to process applications.
Patrick, like many business owners, is uncertain when his bar will be able to host customers again. “A place like ours is obviously going to have to deal with some form of social distancing even when we open,” he says. “We just try and focus on the fact that we’re getting to put that show out for people and people seem grateful for it. It’s at least something to keep us connected.”
For Sareini, creating the Youtube series has made it easier to adjust to life without work. “I’ve always wanted to do it, but before quarantine happened I never had the time,” she says. “So it was the perfect transition to fill up all of the free time I had, and honestly, it’s a lot of fun.” She says the most difficult part has been coming up with themes for the episodes and editing the videos. (She’s doing the latter with the help of her fiance). She’s also trying to use the channel to promote Selden Standard’s digital cookbook, whose sales go to support the 78 employees who were laid off last month.
Despite the distraction, Sareini remains concerned about her employment situation. As of last week, she was still awaiting her unemployment benefits. “I filed at the beginning of March, when the government ordered issue for closing restaurants began,” she says, “and I still haven’t received anything yet.”
Eater is tracking the impact of the novel coronavirus on the local food industry. Have a story to share? Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.