An “open for carryout sign” is posted on the window at Lou Lou Food + Drink in St. Matthews. Inside the popular, normally bustling restaurant, chairs are parked upside down on tables. Piles of takeout boxes fill usually occupied tables near the kitchen.
Inside the door on Thursday afternoons, Lou Lou owner Jared Matthews keeps watch for people pulling up to the door for a free bowl of jambalaya, a favorite menu entrée. Every week since his restaurant closed due to COVID-19, Matthews makes five gallons of the crawfish/shrimp specialty for people in the restaurant and music business who are out of work.
As people pull up, he goes out to the car to take orders, goes back to the kitchen where a small team continues to work, then back out to the car once the food is ready to go.
When COVID-19 first hit, Matthews told employees to take steaks and food from restaurant freezers and refrigerators. He knew that would carry their families for a few weeks.
“There are big needs out there,” Matthews said. “When the restaurants closed, I began to think about what I could do within reason.”
In addition to the Thursday afternoon giveaways, Matthews also takes pans of pasta to nurses’ stations at local hospitals and emergency rooms.
Sharing good food never grows old.
“They are so appreciative, thanking me,” Matthews said. “I tell them I’m the one who is grateful for all they do, risking their lives and sacrificing family life to care for those who are sick. I’m thankful and blessed my family is safe.”
Though Southeast Christian Church has helped with some outreach, most of it comes out of Matthews’ pocket.
He’s not counting the cost.
River Valley Campus Connections Pastor Justin Morris asked Matthews to make food for workers at Robley Rex VA Medical Center.
“Jared has taken a huge hit with his restaurants, but he cares deeply about people who are hurting at this time,” Morris said. “He encourages them through food. Literally to him, food is something that brings joy. He uses the resources he has to bring joy in their hurt.”
It may come from his own journey to authentic faith.
“I always believed there was a God,” Matthews said. “I didn’t know if I believed the Bible. Living the Christian life wasn’t a high priority. I spent over a year researching books by Lee Strobel and C.S. Lewis as well as the Bible to find the truth about God.”
He was bartending when he turned his life over to God. Through conversation after conversation, as people talked with Matthews about their own questions and doubt, he believed that was exactly where God wanted him.
He began bringing friends to Southeast and Man Challenge meetings.
“A lot of people I met were hurting,” he said.
Before COVID-19, Matthews was running five restaurants. He hoped they’d be closed for two weeks. They’d survive that, but two weeks stretched into two months.
Matthews has no idea what’s ahead.
“God didn’t cause COVID-19, but He could stop it,” Matthews said. “I think He wants us to come together and care for one another. He knows what’s ahead. We don’t.”