By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Nov 11, 2020 at 12:30 PM

It’s been an emotional few days for Andrea Haas and Todd Fugh, owners of Riverwest Pizza, 932 E. Wright St., who were overwhelmed when their gesture of hope and goodwill met with an unexpected flood of support from the community.

On Nov. 1, the restaurant announced that they would be giving away 100 free Thanksgiving meals to their Riverwest neighbors. It was a gesture, Haas says, that stemmed from sheer gratefulness  for the support that the neighborhood has shown them. 

“We feel so blessed to have been here for six years,” she says. “And we’ve been so grateful to the neighborhood over the past eight months. Our restaurant is small, so we’ve only been open for carry-out. But people have supported us so incredibly and we just wanted to give back to them.” 

Haas says that they also hoped they could bring a bit of joy to people who might be alone for Thanksgiving or having a rough time.

“There are so many people who can’t travel for the holidays or spend time with their families,” she says. “So our goal was to do something for them, to maybe make a small difference. Obviously, we’d also love to help anyone who really needs a meal as well. The goal is simply to offer people a bit of happiness during these tough times.”

100 meals becomes 500 meals 

What Haas says they didn’t expect was the outpouring of support they would receive from friends, neighbors and area businesses. 

It began with an inquiry from Charteisha Carson-Clark, a senior human resources manager from Master Lock who facilitated a Master Lock sponsorship of 100 additional meals. That was followed by a donation from Fairway Independent Mortgage facilitated by mortgage lender Jeff Hawkins. 

And the generosity snowballed from there. Inquiries and donations flooded in from a variety of sources including David Manyo of Manyo Motors; Riverwest Realtors/Coldwell Banker (Andrea Haas and Gaby Boutillier); Root River Realty (Holly Speranza), Great Clips in Shorewood, Greco and Sons (Thomas Hauser); and Innovative Remodeling and Restoration (Todd Fugh).

“As of yesterday, we are now up to 500 donated meals,” says Haas with emotion evident in her voice. “Yesterday was a really overwhelming day. To think this began as just this tiny little gesture.. and people just came out of the woodwork and were so generous. It’s really inspiring.” 

Haas says she can't express enough gratitude for the support they've received. And she's encouraging folks to continue the momentum by paying it forward.

“We are all so happy to do this...Todd and myself and the entire amazing team at Riverwest Pizza. We couldn't do it without them! If we had the capacity, I'd love to give out 2,000 meals… but we know our limitations. So, at this point, we are suggesting that people make a donation to our neighbors at the Riverwest Food Pantry. We just spoke with someone today who donated $1,000… and it literally brought tears to my eyes.” 

Those who wish to pay-it-forward by making a contribution to the Riverwest Food Pantry can submit their donation online or drop off a check addressed to the food pantry at Riverwest Pizza. 

Thanksgiving meal distribution

Haas stresses that the Thanksgiving meals are available to anyone. Plates will include sliced turkey, housemade mashed potatoes and gravy, house-made stuffing, macaroni and cheese and cornbread, all made and packaged by Riverwest Pizza staff and volunteers.

The meals will be available via curbside pick-up (guests are asked to pull their cars up to the restaurant where someone will bring out their meals)  beginning at 11 a.m. on Nov. 26 (Thanksgiving Day) until they are all distributed. Haas says she anticipates they will have meals to offer until about 3 or 4 p.m.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.