Despite the remarkable gentrification of gin in the last decade, there are still a few haters out there, and the occasional benighted soul who thinks that martinis are made with vodka.
Here’s a reason for even the hard-hearted holdouts to change their drinking habits, at least once in a while: the Burrito Project.
Greenbar, L.A.’s best-known craft distillery, has teamed up with restaurants and bars throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties to help feed the homeless. Each of the participating establishments is offering a brand-new cocktail of its own making that includes Greenbar’s gin. Every time that drink is ordered, a burrito is donated to help the hungry.
Greenbar Distillery is well on its way to providing 10,000 burritos by the end of spring. “We started this at the beginning of the year with our City Bright Gin,” says Litty Mathew, co-founder and spirits maker at Greenbar Distillery, who runs the business with her husband and partner, Melkon Khosrovian.
It was an appropriate spirit for the project, Mathew said. “This gin is inspired by our love of the L.A. food scene. It was about people as opposed to geography.”
Mathew said the idea came about naturally. “We’re in the Arts District here in downtown L.A. In our area we’re less than a mile away from a lot of hungry, homeless people. It’s not something we can ignore.” Lately, she has been seeing homeless people even in places where she never noticed them before — Glendale, South Pasadena.
It wasn’t difficult to persuade restaurants and bars to come on board, Mathew said. “We knew that this would resonate with our partners. And when we proposed it to them, we gave them a special pricing on the spirits.”
Making the people’s burrito is inexpensive, simple and conducive to the assembly-line approach, Mathew said. “What we love about the Burrito Project is that all the money goes into the food. There’s no overhead, no administrative costs. Most of the food is donated by local restaurants. A bunch of volunteers get together, and all they do is make burritos.”
To keep things streamlined as they make 750 to 1,000 burritos per session, no meat is used. “They’re all vegetarian,” Mathew said. “They last longer at room temperature.”
Volunteers gather around 7:30 p.m., usually at a church near the area where the burritos will be distributed that day. It takes about two hours to make and heat a batch. By 9:30, volunteers are on the street, giving out burritos to whoever holds out a hand. “We do it late at night,” Mathews said. “We try to time it so that those that haven’t found a place for the night and are most in need get some food.”
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There are no rules about who gets a burrito or how many each person can take. “If someone wants two, we give them two. People tend to pass them on to their friends.”
Mathew is under no illusion that the Burrito Project will solve America’s hunger challenge. “We know we’re not addressing the root causes of the problem. But when you hand someone a burrito, you’re helping them at that moment. And it feels pretty good.”
The Burrito Project continues through the end of April. It will restart in the fall. To see a map and list of bars and restaurants that participate, go to greenbardistillery.com/burritos/.