The DiCecco family of Jerry and the Mermaid have a history of giving back to their Riverhead community.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last March they were quick to donate meals to front-line workers at Peconic Bay Medical Center, an effort that helped earn owner Jerry DiCecco Jr. Co-Business Person of the Year honors from the News-Review earlier this month.
Anyone who has ever trotted five kilometers through downtown Riverhead in the Run for the Ridley to benefit the New York Marine Rescue Center also knows one of the best parts is reaching the finish line to be greeted by Manhattan clam chowder generously donated by Dicecco.
Now the second-generation restaurant owner and chef is turning his magnanimous attention to another worthy cause: He’s helping those who are suffering financially in his own industry.
“Back during the original shutdown I did a lot to feed hospital and front line workers because they needed it most at that time,” DiCecco said. “The people that need it most now come from my industry.”
DiCecco has partnered with Branches of Long Island in an effort to raise $100,000 to feed 500 families of restaurant workers displaced from their employment by state regulations that have affected the restaurant business.
Here’s how it works: You simply donate as much as you see fit to the fund and DiCecco will use the funds to cook seven day’s worth of meals for 50 families a week over a 2 1/2 month stretch beginning in February.
Out-of-work hospitality staff across Suffolk County will be eligible for what they’re calling The Mermaid Project. Branches of Long Island will soon be launching a website for people to register and to determine the winners.
“This is my way of giving back,” said DiCecco, who has also worked as a culinary instructor at Suffolk Community College training the next generation of restaurant staffers. “Businesses are failing or have had to cut hours for long-time employees.”
In the first 10 days, more than $20,000 had been raised for the project and DiCecco leveraged business relationships with partners like Clare Rose and US Foods for corporate donations.
Other area businesses are also helping out. Long Ireland Brewing Co., for example, is donating $1 from every pint sold this month to the effort. In one of the cuter givebacks, DiCecco’s wife, Dani, is hosting a danceathon at U Gotta Dance, the studio she owns in East Moriches.
It was a challenging year professionally for the couple as she planned to open her studio in March, but suffered several months of delays due to the pandemic. Jerry, meanwhile, was forced to change his business model once COVID-19 hit to offer more takeout than in the past and even curbside grocery pickups. Of course, his own staff had to absorb cuts in hours, but he said they’ve been successful enough to have staffing back close to its normal winter levels.
“We were luckier than most,” DiCecco said, pointing to existing outdoor seating as one way Jerry and the Mermaid has been able to seat more customers than others might have.
For those less fortunate, he hopes to bring them solace in the form of comfort food for one week during these trying times and is optimistic that when the 10 weeks is up the beneficiaries will be closer to working again. While he’s still working on the menu, the packages might include trays of sausage and peppers, eggplant and other vegetables.
“And seafood, of course. That’s what we do here,” he added.
While the website for the program is still being set up, Jerry and the Mermaid is pointing people who are interested in helping out to #TheMermaidProject on Facebook and Instagram for details on how to get involved.