The Meatball Hero: After Sandy, Michael Chernow Gives Back to the City that Gave Him Everything
Courtesy of The Meatball Shop
Michael Chernow gets his hands dirty. As one half of the cheeky duo behind The Meatball Shop, the successful mini-chain of ball-focused foods, the Manhattan native made a name for himself by capitalizing on polite toilet humor and mugging for the cameras that love him. But don't be fooled by the high profile.
In the days and weeks following Hurricane Sandy, Chernow found himself compelled to lend his hand to the people and the city that needed him. Taking a step back from business, Chernow was working in the Rockaways a week after the storm to help rebuild damaged communities. Over a month later, he continues to organize efforts to support those who need help.
The restaurateur discussed his experience with Fork in the Road, weaving his speech with equal amounts of humility and gratitude. "I was a kid growing up here and this city has given me everything," he said. Now, he's trying to give something -- anything -- back.
On taking action:
"When it was all going down, I was really inclined to contribute but I had no idea where to begin. Having never done any kind of hands-on volunteer work before, I felt I needed a good connection to make an impact. Then, the following Sunday, I was practicing yoga at Ashtanga Yoga New York in lower Manhattan. The shall (yoga studio) was cold and without power but we were led by candlelight. The experience actually kind of beautiful and I felt so grateful to be part of the community. Eddie Stern, who runs AYNY, approached me to discuss his volunteer efforts and I immediately said, 'let's put a plan together for tomorrow morning.' And that's how it started, we were both just sharing the same thought."
"Of course, getting the work done was something else entirely. I reached out to many of my colleagues in the restaurant industry and, one-by-one, people came to the table. Mathieu Palombino, of Motorino Pizza, was particularly incredible (Ed. note: Despite the closing of the East Village Motorino location due to Sandy, Palombino worked in the dark, mixing pizza dough by-hand in an enormous vat atop a kitchen table). For two weeks after the dust had settled, in my neck of the woods at least, I focused my energy and efforts on bringing food to the people out in the Rockaways. On the first Monday following the storm, we brought 1000 meatballs for 1000 people. On Tuesday, we brought 250 pies of pizza and a ton of bread from Il Forno bakery. That was how it went, everyday, for the next two weeks."