Luis Payano, left, and his dad, Jaime Parra, owners of...

Luis Payano, left, and his dad, Jaime Parra, owners of L.I. Valle Grill and Restaurant, deliver meals to the hospital and to Chris O'Brien, center right, and Dr. Chidubem Iloabachie. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Valley Stream's hospital is extending its mission of improving patients' health to improving the chances that nearby restaurants will survive the pandemic.

Long Island Jewish Valley Stream Hospital is rolling out its Small Business Rescue Initiative. Starting Jan. 1, 2022, the hospital will order $400,000 in food a year from nine local eateries instead of having the hospital's kitchen staff do the work.

The meals will feed doctors around the clock and be served to staff and others at special events, LIJ Valley Stream executives told Newsday.

They said they want to expand the small business program to other goods and services that the hospital purchases, such as transportation to and from appointments for patients without access to an automobile or mass transit.

Helping eatery 'stay afloat'

For one of the participating restaurants, L.I. Valle Grill and Restaurant in Franklin Square, supplying food to the hospital will help pay the wages of its 14 employees.

"This program will make sure that we stay afloat," said co-owner Luis M. Payano, adding that he and his father bought the restaurant in June and don’t expect to turn a profit for three or four years. They've filled two orders for 400 empanadas from the LIJ Valley Stream program so far.

L.I. Valle Grill, located at 1204 Hempstead Turnpike, is projected to receive orders totaling between $25,000 and $30,000 next year from the hospital.

"The money will go toward payroll and help us to give back to the community by [donating] food for events" organized by the Franklin Square Chamber of Commerce and education and sports groups, said Payano, who grew up in the area.

L.I. Valle Grill and other program participants were selected by LIJ Valley Stream staff, many of them members of the hospital’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee. The staff interviewed restaurant owners and sampled their food.

Organizers of the small-business rescue program have endeavored to provide a wide variety of foods that will appeal to their co-workers' tastes, said Chris O'Brien, associate executive director of financial operations at LIJ Valley Stream, which is part of Northwell Health.

Wide-ranging cuisines

He declined to identify all the eateries but said they specialize in BBQ, Dominican, Guyanese, Haitian, Italian, Jamaican-Asian fusion, kosher, Mexican and Thai cuisine. They're located in Elmont, Franklin Square, Hewlett, Lawrence, Lynbrook, West Hempstead, Valley Stream and Hollis and Rosedale, Queens.

The program is O’Brien's brainchild.

He said the idea came to him during an October 2020 budget meeting. He and other executives were discussing the cost of the hospital’s kitchen preparing food for the doctors' lounge and special events – and the need for the kitchen to focus on patient meals and the cafeteria used by employees and visitors.

"I was also thinking about the shuttered businesses, including restaurants, that I see every day on my drive into work," said O’Brien, who grew up in Garden City South and now lives in Carle Place. "How can we help to mitigate some of the devastation?"

The program’s launch comes as restaurants face many challenges to their survival: high food costs, difficulty finding workers, customers still nervous about catching the coronavirus and too little government aid to go around.

"We’re starting with restaurants, but we want to diversify our supply chain, to purchase from businesses in the community whenever possible," O’Brien said. "I hope other hospitals and organizations will do something similar."

Eateries came through for hospital

Dr. Chidubem Iloabachie, co-chair of the diversity committee and associate chair of LIJ Valley Stream's emergency department, agreed, saying it was important to give back to the neighborhoods that sustained the hospital at the pandemic's height in spring 2020.

"We want to give back to the community that supported us when we were running out of [treatment] rooms and oxygen," he said. "Over and over again, restaurant owners would show up with food for us. It was amazing."

At L.I. Valle Grill, co-owner Jaime D. Parra spoke about plans to expand the menu beyond Dominican cuisine by adding a juice and smoothie bar, a dessert bar and a large grill to serve breakfast.

"This will increase our income and offer more menu choices to customers," Parra said, pointing to the grill. "We want to take this business to another level."

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