Earlier this week, Toledo restaurant owner Ed Beczynski got a call from an old friend, a longtime customer. The University of Toledo football coach, Jason Candle, checked in on Beczynski, who for years has supplied catering to the Rockets football team.
Beczynski gave Candle the unsparing truth — his businesses were sputtering amid the shutdowns and quarantine of the coronavirus. Beczynski owns an Irish pub, The Blarney, a few yards from the area’s Triple-A baseball stadium and a deli, Focaccia’s Delicatessen, that does a brisk lunchtime business amid Toledo’s revived downtown.
Beczynski compared the cancellation of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations to missing “Christmas, your 16th and 21st birthdays.” The work-from-home mandates meant a drastic pullback of daily walk-in customers for his deli. “It’s the worst that ever I could imagine,” Beczynski said in a phone interview this week. “I’ve been in business downtown for 24 years. I’ve never ever seen anything like this.”
Candle heard his friend’s story and called back a day later with an idea. He wanted to help out, give back and encourage others to follow his lead. So Candle decided to buy lunch from Focaccia’s Delicatessen for the Toledo Police department and the four fire stations within the vicinity of downtown Toledo.
The idea was a hit, as Toledo Police chief George Kral said he practically had to push officers out of the way to deliver the orders. But perhaps even better was what came after the sandwiches, chips and cookies were delivered.
Candle is a low-key coach who rarely seeks the spotlight. But he stepped out of character and allowed the university to send out a press release. He went on a local interview tour — via Skype, of course — to speak about what he did. The social media feeds of the local police and fire departments lit up with praise.
Beczynski got so much media attention that he held what he called a “press conference” outside of Focaccia’s Delicatessen while a firetruck came to pick up the delivery order. “Having a press conference, that was pretty unique and different for me,” he said by phone on Friday. “And it’s been unbelievable, people are calling, wanting to help out nurses and others.”
The next day, Beczynski said his phone rang more than 10 times the amount it had the day before Candle’s gesture. There were calls for food orders, which were welcome. But there were also copycats of Candle’s benevolence, people wanting to make orders to both support the restaurant and help others.
Beczynski said that the legal team from ProMedica, a local healthcare company, pooled together $2,200 to buy meals for nurses at Toledo Hospital. On Thursday next week, they’ll feed more than 200 nurses thanks to the donation. Similar acts, both big and small, followed suit.
Beczynski used his media exposure to encourage residents to patronize other restaurants around the city during this time of social distancing. Candle is pondering buying pizza from some local pizza shops for Rocket supporters next week and is also thinking through how to provide something for local hospitals.
But he’s most grateful that his act of kindness has been replicated, something that’s helped out his friend and managed to touch countless others.
“First and foremost, I wanted to help the people out on the frontlines,” Candle said by phone this week. “But I really wanted to use it as a way to spark other people to get involved, too. These are tough times, uncertain times. I thought it was a way to try and make a small difference.”
And most importantly, it encouraged others to do the same.
“It really shows the character of Coach Candle and Toledo as a university,” Kral said. “It was heartfelt.”
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