The best shift meal I’ll ever eat (until the next Shift Meal)
Each time I walk into the Fulton Street Arts Cooperative, the space seems transformed into something brand new. Last night it was decked out for the inaugural Shift Meal, Lancaster’s first pop-up dinner celebrating the lifestyle and community of the restaurant industry. There were chandeliers made from actual restaurant order tickets, centerpieces made with dill and kale, and so much delicious Sriracha popcorn. Featuring Chef Wilson Lopez and the line crew of Hunger N Thirst in Lancaster, the dinner consisted of three courses and complimentary beer for $20 bucks.
A “shift meal” is a familiar term for service industry workers. It’s a group meal prepared by a restaurant’s chefs using unused ingredients that the restaurant serves to its entire staff outside of peak business hours. As I sat and ate with staff from local restaurants Issei Noodle and Iron Hill Brewery, I learned that these meals are typically served after or before the dinner rush, giving the entire team a moment to breathe, decompress, and reconnect.
“The idea of Shift Meal started jokingly as an idea for a restaurant,” said Shift Meal host Adriane Appleby. “Sometime last year, a co-worker and I were talking about the importance of making a decent staff meal and the importance of venting to one another when you’re having a bad night. The concept was a place where you would come after work. You’d get a plate of food, a free beer and 20 minutes to complain about your shift.”
“Chef Lopez suggested, all jokes aside, that we should try it out as a pop-up dinner. It took about four months to get everything together and organize it.”
I’ll say this straight out: My shift meal was amazing, as good as anything I would expect from Lancaster’s flourishing restaurant community. Course one featured “meat bucket sandwiches,” (wrapped, taped, and dated), consisting of scraps of meat a restaurant typically wouldn’t serve to customers. The options were cured meats, steak with horseradish and veggie.
“The concept was a place where you would come after work. You’d get a plate of food, a free beer and 20 minutes to complain about your shift.”
I was somehow able to save room for course two: veggie fried rice, baby bok choy with black beans and sweet and spicy chicken. Closing out the night was a composite cake, representative of the dessert odds and ends available to industry staff at the end of a long night.
After two complimentary beers, I snuck a peek at the evening’s guest list — over 15 local restaurants were represented. Shift Meal hosts are hoping for the pop-up dinner to become a quarterly event, moving to different venues around the city and hosting different chefs and line crews. “I’d say the culture of the restaurant industry here in Lancaster is pretty exciting at the moment,” said Appleby. “From what I’ve seen there’s a lot of support and camaraderie between different restaurants and cafés. Hopefully Shift Meal helps build on that foundation.”
Hilary Mace, chef and owner of The Scarlet Runner (a Lancaster catering company with a pop-up dinner coming up on April 12), loved the idea behind Shift Meal. “My first job as an intern in NYC was to cook staff meal every day,” she said. “It is a huge responsibility. That is the one meal every day that all the cooks, dishwashers, and chefs get to eat (hopefully together and not whilst running around). I quickly realized the importance and sanctity of this meal. They nailed all the details of the dining experience—serving water out of quart containers, serving food in metal 1/2 pans, ticket receipts hanging from the ceiling… it was all so great. Plus, I loved the food!”
Follow Shift Meal’s Facebook page to stay in the loop with upcoming dinners.