Hustle and a refusal to give up on joy are part of what's keeping America going through the pandemic. You see both on Saturday nights at 7:55 when Freddie Lutz's phone alarm goes off.
"I turn to Javier, and I say, 'Watch the door.' And I run up the street," said Lutz. His 90-yard dash, which starts inside Federico Ristorante Italiano, ends with him stepping up to a mic to introduce a show at Freddie's Beach Bar & Restaurant, the other restaurant he owns on 23rd Street in Arlington, Virginia's Crystal City neighborhood. "I joke with people that I'm going to get a blue blazer that's reversible and has purple on the inside and change on the way up the street."
The transformation that's most on Lutz's mind these days is economic. Amazon picked Arlington as the home for its second headquarters in November 2018. Lutz's restaurants are near the rising corporate campus, where 1,000 people have already been hired and a total of 25,000 people are slated to work in the next decade.
Before COVID-19 and the switch to remote work, Lutz experienced the beginnings of the bigger lunch and dinner crowds he expects in the future: "One of the things I learned through talking to people from Amazon is they don't put a lot of cafeterias in their campus," he said. "They like to drive their folks out into the neighborhood. They're very much supportive of restaurants and neighborhood development."
But this year dropped a pandemic directly between Lutz and the future he wants for his businesses, his employees, his hometown, and his neighbors. When he initially tried to pivot to carryout and delivery, his restaurants lost money, he couldn't pay his bills, and he had to lay off nearly all of his 40 full- and part-time staff.
Then, in late April, Amazon called Lutz. "They told me they loved Freddie’s Beach Bar and wanted to partner with us to deliver 10,000 meals to essential care workers and vulnerable populations," Lutz said. "I was thrilled."
By early May, more than 400 meals a day were leaving the Freddie’s kitchen and reaching firefighters, police, hospitals, and area residents in low-income housing. "It was a wonderful and rewarding experience for all of us," Lutz said.
Due to the size of Amazon's order, he enlisted a dozen other nearby restaurants. This joint effort "breathed life, energy, and activity into the independent restaurants that make up the core of 23rd Street, while also serving people on the front lines and those in greatest need," said Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, president and executive director of the Crystal City Business Improvement District.
In addition to the 10,000 meals, Amazon has provided critical COVID-19 funding to the Arlington Community Foundation and launched a statewide effort sponsoring computer science education in high need schools across the Commonwealth. Since 2019, Amazon has donated $10 million to area non-profits and for-profits serving community needs.
"Freddie's will be here 20 years in March, and we look forward to the next 20 years, partnering up with Amazon and also glamazon," said Lutz, who champions the rights of the LGBTQ community. "Amazon has made Arlington better by bringing excitement and hope to all of us that work and live here—hope for a better, more exciting world after this horrible pandemic."