Renowned chef Brenda Buenviaje found herself adapting to the new normal the coronavirus pandemic has brought and opened her own youtube channel based on the menu from her three Creole comfort food restaurants.
Buenviaje’s three restaurants include “Brenda’s French Soul Food” found on Polk Street, “Brenda’s Meat and Three” on Divisadero, and “Brenda’s Oakland” that opened its doors to the public in October 2019.
A new venture
However, what she did not expect was starting up a food channel on Youtube with the help of her 19-year-old son Max who is currently in college and studying to become a filmmaker. Max, who is spending his summer at home in San Francisco, is now helping his mom start her own cooking channel on the video platform. After preparing all the necessary equipment, they began to film “Cook Like Brenda.”
During a phone interview, Buenviaje said that she started her channel during the early stages of the pandemic when governments implemented the stay-at-home order. She noted that she created it to help people who were panicking about what they could do while locking up inside their residences.
After getting so many emails and requests about cooking advice and recipes, she thought of using video instruction due to her incompatibility with writing or typing. Buenviaje was glad to see that her video format worked and has continued to release an average of two new videos every month that feature some of her most beloved dishes.
Buenviaje said, “My culinary directors asked me not to share those. They said, ‘Your competitors will steal them!’” However, she noted that working together with her son has been the greatest part of her year amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite not thinking she would have ever delved into managing her own Youtube channel in 2019, she has not found herself diving head-first into a new venture. Buenviaje is using Goldbelly to distribute her delicious dishes across the nation, unlike her peers who focus on selling inside their brick-and-mortar establishments.
Buenviaje got the idea for her new venture from Shake Shack’s DIY Burget Kits that she said got her interest. But she noted that last year, she never would have thought she would be packing frozen shrimp and grits, let alone distributing them across the country.
The chef’s business had since thrived much better than it did in March when the coronavirus pandemic started to drag the economy down. The early stages of the health crisis forced Buenviaje and her wife, Libby Truesdell, to temporarily shut down Brenda’s French Soul Food for five months.
Invaluable staff members
The recession also forced Buenviaje to layoff 15 of 200 employees, the majority of which have been in service with the restaurant since it first opened more than ten years ago. She said the staff was working for so long, but some reluctantly moved away due to not being able to afford rent, the San Francisco Gate reported.
During the hardest times of the pandemic, Buenviaje discussed her rent with landlords and talked with her upper management, who agreed to work for half-pay for the first month of the stay-at-home order. The chef was able to work on her restaurant during the temporary closure, including putting in new flooring and deep cleaning the establishment.
Buenviaje also started a GoFundMe campaign that raised nearly $10,000 aimed at supporting her furloughed employees and their families through the pandemic.
Recently, the chef said she had been able to rehire nearly 70% of the laid-off workers in March. And now, her restaurants at Polk Street has begun providing takeout and delivery services once again. Brenda’s Meat and Three now come with a parklet that allows customers to eat outdoors to maintain social distancing.