Ani Ramen is closing its doors during the COVID-19 outbreak and reopening as Rock City Pizza and Bang Bang Chicken, a non-profit restaurant serving up Detroit-style pizza and Thai-spiced rotisserie chicken for takeout. Meals will be sold at a reduced rate, and for even less money customers will be able to buy meals to donate.
Never had Detroit-style pizza? Think a Sicilian pie made in a pan, giving a crispy crust with overflowing cheese, like “when you make a grilled cheese the cheese melts over the bread, and then it has that crispy cheesy pan crust," Sarabhayavanija explains.
Pizzas will be in the $11 to $13 range, but customers who buy meals can add on a donatable pizza for $6 or $7. Chicken meals will be priced between $15 and $19 dollars, and $8 to donate.
“I think that everyone right now is in the mood where they’ll say, 'Hey, I just got 30 bucks of takeout. Oh my goodness, for 6 bucks, I can get food to somebody else that really needs it,” Sarabhayavanija said. “I think people are going to give with their hearts right now.”
The restaurant will have a running count of the number of donations made by customers. At the end of every night, half of the donated meals will be available for pickup for those in need and half will be donated to hospitals, police officers, firefighters and other first responders and charities.
“Some of the hospital workers, the cafeterias are shot. Some are being given, like, bananas, cereal and saltine crackers for a 14-hour shift,” Sarabhayavanija said. “They have to bring their own food but they can’t buy food. They’re not enough refrigerators. It’s just unreal.”
Sarabhayavanija aims to have the Jersey City location open by April 24, and hopes to open at the Montclair and Maplewood locations after that. A Newark location is being planned as well.
Celebrity hairstyist Mark Bustos, Sarabhayavanija childhood friend, is partnering with the project as part of his #BeAwesomeToSomebody campaign. Skeery Jones of Z100 is involved with promoting the project, and the group is reaching out to other big-name Ani Ramen fans to get involved as well.
When Gov. Phil Murphy first mandated restaurants stop doing dine-in service two weeks ago, Ani Ramen quickly decided it would donate its food inventory to families in need in the form of ramen meal kits. By the end of Thursday, they had given out 15,000 bowls of ramen. But Sarabhayavanija knew they could do even more for those in need.
At a time when many restaurants are closing and future plans are being put on hold, Sarabhayavanija decided to forge ahead with his plans for two new restaurants, albeit in a different form. Rock City Pizza was set to open in the fall in Jersey City and Montclair. This isn’t exactly how he planned to roll out these concepts, but he’s happy they’re coming at a time when they can do some good.
“Now’s the time that if we all give back just a little, it won’t seem like such a heavy task. We’re trying to relaunch and get our towns and communities back in order,” Sarabhayavanija said. “If we do a little bit now, it’s gonna save so much legwork in the long run.”
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