Island eatery serves up kindness

A South Whidbey restaurant is shifting its resources towards delivering care packages for community members who may be financially impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, or feeling isolated because of it.

Chef and owner of Portico Latin Bistro, Graham Gori, said he decided to focus on giving back to the community that helped him start his Langley restaurant by creating a new website for people to donate meals to their neighbors.

Five years ago, Gori and his wife Iliana opened their restaurant with the help of an online fundraising campaign. Now, with the help of community partners, they want to return the goodwill.

Gori said he chose this new system over strictly providing take-out services because it provides warmth and a sense of belonging to struggling residents of the island.

“The motive behind this was the fact that the dining room is totally empty, the streets are totally empty, however that doesn’t mean there’s not a desire to be fed,” he said.

The new website, porticobistro.wixsite.com/gift, recently launched and the project is appropriately titled the Giving Bag.

A Giving Bag costs $25 and contains a meal made in Portico’s kitchen with two sides and a bouquet of flowers. There will be some add-ons available for purchase, such as pet treats, desserts and more.

Gori is currently working to partner with other Whidbey businesses to add more items to the Giving Bags. Deep Harvest Farm has already committed to providing seed packets for the care packages.

Patricia Friedman, whose daughter works at Portico, has been helping Gori by reaching out to organizations all across the community to find recipients for the Giving Bags.

“Even if you have food or resources but you are isolated, these are really loving ways to tell people we’re here, we’re connected,” Friedman said.

She has reached out to churches and senior centers to find people who may otherwise fly under the radar and not receive the help they need.

Delivery of the bags will be to South Whidbey, including Langley, Clinton and Freeland, which Friedman acknowledged will be one of the biggest challenges.

Gori said his staff has adapted well to the recent changes.

“All the employees had to pivot and redefine their roles in a restaurant,” he said.

Friedman’s daughter, Flannery, helped develop vegan recipes for the Giving Bags. A bus boy helped create the new Giving Bag website, and a server lent her artistic talents by decorating the outside of the food bags.

The website allows people to order Giving Bags, submit information for people who they believe to be in need of the service or make monetary donations to fund the project.

For $150 each week, a benefactor option provides four delivered meals and an additional thank-you meal for the benefactor and one guest.

Clancy and Marcia Dunigan, a Freeland couple, learned about becoming benefactors from a Portico employee. The restaurant has been a favorite haunt of theirs since its beginning. Clancy said it has always reminded him and his wife of a little cafe up in the mountains of Nicaragua they used to visit.

Besides becoming a benefactor and donating money, Clancy has also helped gather nettles for Gori to use in his cooking.

“I don’t sew masks and I don’t do those kinds of things, but it’s nice to help out your neighbor whether you know them or whether they’re anonymous,” he said.

Departing from the usual Latin American fare of the restaurant, a new menu of comfort food has been prepared for the occasion. Gori said for the first week, there will be rosemary fried chicken with mashed potatoes and collard greens and a French beef, stout and black pepper stew with sauteed carrots. A vegan chana dal, an Indish dish, will also be available.

He encourages people to also consider ordering something for themselves.

“If you want to buy a Giving Bag for yourself, you can,” Gori said.

The new program will begin with 100 meals prepared in its first week. A special Easter add-on will be available this Sunday, with handmade granola, eggs, pinwheels, handmade truffles and flowers.

Orders can be made Tuesday through Saturday between 2-6 p.m. by calling 360-221-8141 or emailing porticolatinbistro@gmail.com.