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A Different Kind of Family Meal

A Different Kind of Family Meal

Photo Credit: Austin Shift Meal

A shift meal: a well-known entity for those in the service industry. Also termed a family meal, it’s the lunch/dinner/4 pm-only-meal-of-the-night that servers, bartenders, and other hospitality workers get to enjoy and nourish themselves with while working 8-hour or longer shifts. With daily income a hit-or-miss game, a free meal is an appreciated gesture, a black mark in a personal P&L. With the onset of Covid-19, the restaurant and hospitality sectors have been the hardest hit with thousands of employees out of work, income, or a reliable shift meal. That’s where Austin Shift Meal and Houston Shift Meal come in—two non-profit organizations dedicated to feeding service workers in two of the largest cities in Texas. 

Texas shut down most businesses in March along with the rest of the US but then reopened. Restaurants and bars shut their doors again after a surge of cases after Memorial Day. Then, on June 26, Governor Greg Abbott DID allow restaurants to open at limited capacity and with health mandates, but only if their profits came from 51 percent food—leaving out bars. As of September 17, restaurants are allowed 75 percent indoor capacity (with restrictions and business pivots), bars are still closed, and all-around profits are suffering. 

Cat Nguyen started Houston Shift Meal and Mandi Nelson in Austin quickly followed suit. Restaurants provide food and meals while the respective Shift Meal teams organize and curate kits of four to five meals for the week. There is a pickup site for the out-of-work service industry to come and pick up their meals for the week.

Nelson partnered with the Austin Food & Wine Alliance who came on board with no hesitation to allow her to receive and allocate funds through a 501c3 to pay the restaurants who provided their goods and services. Nelson commented, “A lot of restaurants were still making meals for their employees even though they were shut down. This was a way to get money for those restaurants and pay them for what they were already doing. It takes the load off of them and still gives people the meals they were dependent on.” Nelson will take whatever is donated including wines, beer, and cider from local wineries and distilleries and cocktail kits put together by local bartenders. One of the cocktail kits was from local bartender Bjorn Taylor who included his Breezy Summer Collins, and you can find the recipe below. 

Nelson has also managed to recruit over 100 volunteers to help pick up meals from restaurants, assemble bags, and set up the pick-up sites that change week-to-week. The initiative is certainly growing, and it’s helpful for everyone to watch how a community can come together in a time of need. You can visit the links below If you’d like to help donate to help pay restaurants and providers. If you are local, you can sign up to donate food or sign up to pick up meals for the week. 

Houston Shift Meal
Austin Shift Meal

Breezy Summer Collins 

by: Robert Bjorn Taylor


  • 2 dashes lavender bitters
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • 1 oz strawberry syrup
  • 1.5 oz bourbon
  • 1.5 oz Richard’s Sparkling Rain Water
  • Garnish- lemon peel


Put all ingredients into a tall collins glass.  Top glass with ice then stir with a spoon.  You could also use another glass to toss the drink back and forth.  Add garnish.