MARTINEZ, CA —Families turned up by the carload when the owners of a Martinez restaurant advertised that for one hour, they were handing out free grilled cheese sandwiches for kids. Vic's Martinez handed out 50 grilled cheese sandwiches that day, according to Rosie Meyers, who owns the restaurant alongside her husband, Lourin Meyers, and her brother and sister-in-law, JB and Astrid Balingit.
The next day, they handed out 100 sandwiches. The following day, it was at least 120 grilled cheese sandwiches.
“It is the thing that has felt the best since opening the restaurant a year and two months ago, on Jan. 15, 2019,” Meyers told Patch.
Meyers said she came up with the idea while sitting on her couch at home after getting the news that schools were closing down to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19. That meant that in addition to adjusting schedules to care for their children, parents would also be worrying about how to feed their families.
“I have five kids and I know when they are home in the summer, I am stressed,” Meyers said. “And we are a family-oriented restaurant so I thought, ‘Why don’t we honor these kids with grilled cheese?’”
So she announced the “Grilled Cheese, Please” event on the Vic’s Martinez Instagram and Facebook pages. For one hour on March 17, 18, 19, families could bring their children to Vic’s and receive one free grilled cheese per child.
Meyers explained that Vic's opened shop those three days, specifically to keep its promise of free grilled-cheese sandwiches.
“We opened for one hour, and we did again Wednesday and Thursday,” Meyers said. “And I put tape down to mark 6 feet between customers.”
When it came time to decide whether they would be open this week, Meyers said they have been taking it day by day.
“It depends on what supplies we have,” she said. “We’re down to one cook, my brother, and we have a menu of maybe five, down from 60 items.”
Vic’s had a regular staff of 10-12 employees, and when the county and then state shelter-at-home orders came down — closing restaurants except for take-out order — Meyers said it was “gut-wrenching” to let their staff go.
“There were tears. It was the last thing we wanted to do,” she said. “They all came back and volunteered to clean and scrub for almost a full day.”
They hope to start bringing back their staff soon.
“Now, it is survival of the fittest,” Meyers said.
Vic’s Martinez, 1500 Pacheco Blvd., is known for its comfort food, she said, and Vic’s will continue to be open for as long as it can. Currently, Vic’s is open daily for takeout orders from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for lunch, and from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. for dinner.
Meyers said to check Vic’s social media pages to make sure it is open, and to check the menu items for the day (and to see if it’s free grilled cheese time again!). Customers who want to order should call 925-387-0886 before noon for breakfast and lunch, and before 2 p.m. for dinner. Customers are then given a window of time to pick up their order. Pick-up times are staggered to adhere to social distancing during this coronavirus crisis.
As for Vic, he was Meyers’ grandfather, who instilled a work ethic in her — and her brother — that included, among other rules, never sleeping past 7 a.m.