MILWAUKEE ((SPECTRUM NEWS) - Caitlin Cullen’s restaurant, The Tandem, now has an international partner as it provides free meals during the pandemic. World Central Kitchen, the hunger relief organization founded by Spanish chef José Andrés, has pledged to reimburse them $10 for every meal. 

When strict social distancing rules took effect in mid-March, Cullen suspended curbside service and started giving away the food she had left. One week in, it was almost gone.

Donations and partnerships with almost 30 Milwaukee restaurants kept the program going. Cullen looked for a more sustainable solution, but did not hear back from any national organizations.

Then April 17, a Friday night, her friend Tarik Moody from Radio Milwaukee buzzed her with a cryptic invite to a business call the next morning.

“How do I do this without telling her? I’m like, ‘It’s very important,’” Moody said.

He eventually revealed the call would be about a funding opportunity from World Central Kitchen.

“I almost spit out my beer,” Cullen said. “Like, of course. Yeah, I’ll be on that call.”

Moody said he had been feeling helpless during the pandemic, and sent a message to WCK hoping they might publicize Cullen’s efforts. He didn’t expect a response, much less a robust financial package. Within two days, Cullen was signing paperwork to become the first restaurant in Wisconsin backed by WCK.

Moody’s long shot email helped secure thousands meals for one of Milwaukee’s underserved neighborhoods.

“The fact that she did it in a community with people that look like me says a lot to me,” Moody said. “That’s one of the reasons that kind of inspired me to do that.”

The new funding allowed Cullen to rehire two workers she had to lay off last month. She is also able to pay restaurant partners double what she had before for the meals they provide.

“It’s really awesome to know that that leap of faith landed on some solid ground, as opposed to in a pit of despair somewhere,” Cullen said. “It’s nice to know we’re gonna keep being able to do this.”

The Tandem’s pivot away from profit continues to pay off. The restaurant will continue providing more than 400 free meals Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 1848 West Fond Du Lac Avenue.