if your broke and hungry

‘No questions asked’: Norfolk hot dog spot offering free meals to anyone who needs one

The chalkboard out in front of Norfolk’s Perfectly Frank is usually good for a double take.

“I thought I’d be on fire more as an adult,” read the sign in front of the dog and burger shop on Wednesday. “All that STOP, DROP and ROLLING we did in grade school…”

Other days you might see a riff on the man bun, a Valentine’s Day reminder that V is for vodka, or an existential query: “Is a rivalry between two vegetarians still called a beef?”

But in late February, the little restaurant near Old Dominion University had an entirely different sort of message for the neighborhood.

“If you’re broke and hungry, we got you!” read the sign in front of Perfectly Frank. “One free meal per customer, per day. No questions asked.”

The shop is asking anyone who wants to to pay forward a meal for someone in the community — and for each meal bought, owner Tarah Morris puts a little note card on a board marked “Franks for Friends.” Each card is redeemable for a meal.

“We just hope we can touch some people and help them through this horrible time,” Morris said.

Owner Tarah Morris holds up a meal in front of the board her hot dog shop put up, allowing customers to pay forward meals for those who can't afford to eat.

Owner Tarah Morris holds up a meal in front of the board her hot dog shop put up, allowing customers to pay forward meals for those who can’t afford to eat. (Courtesy Tarah Morris)

The idea came in February, after a customer showed up to Perfectly Frank with a check for $2,000, dedicated to helping staff who’d suffered loss of income during the pandemic.

“She said, “I’ve been watching your staff hustle,’” said Morris, who began to choke up even before she got through the sentence. (“Sorry, I’m such a nerd,” she said, after getting her voice back.)

“But they’re all young kids, just trying to make their own way. They’re making less money due to COVID and no one has complained. The donor said, ‘Take this and give them each $100. And whatever is left over, use it to feed people in need.’”

After giving the money to her 15 staffers, Morris had $700 left over — two of her employees turned down the money and said to give it to people who need it more. And Morris thought: What if she used the money to give out free meals at Perfectly Frank?

It wouldn’t be the first time Perfectly Frank customers’ generosity went toward meals for those in need. Last year, at the beginnings of the pandemic, Morris had also received donations from customers worried her business was in trouble. She passed the money on instead to local nonprofits, putting it toward meal donations from her shop.

“I worked with Salvation Army, the Union Mission, ForKids. It was this whole other job keeping it all organized,” she said. “We ended up raising about $13,000 total while doing curbside service. Then donations slowed down after restaurants opened back up.”

But this time, said Morris, she wanted to spread the meals around to people who might not be reached by organizations she’d worked with in the past.

“So we started Franks for Friends,” she said. “Somebody who can pay buys a meal, and it goes up on the bulletin board. If you’ve had a rough week, you’re homeless, you’re hungry, you can come in and take a ticket off the board.”

Morris said they try to make it clear the meal doesn’t have to be for yourself. It could be for someone else who needs it, maybe even just the person you passed on your way into the shop. She said she doesn’t want anyone to have to feel bashful about taking a card — and she doesn’t ask who the food is for.

“We don’t care if it’s for you, for a neighbor, for a stranger on the street,” she said. “We want to give them a meal. We’re not assuming it’s for you. We assume you’re trying to help us get food to people who need it.”

She also told the nonprofits she worked with last year to let their clients know about the free meals — and at least one nonprofit stops in regularly to pick up free meals for children they work with.

Customers can donate to the free-meal program over the phone, or in person when picking up a meal. Morris is also trying to set up a Venmo or PayPal account. But so far, she said, donations from customers have been able to keep pace with the number of people who are coming in for food — around 50 meals so far.

“It’ll go on as long as people donate meals,” she said. “And with the fact there’s so many (meals) on deck, I don’t see it stopping any time soon.”

Perfectly Frank is located at 4408 Monarch Way, Norfolk, 757-440-1020, perfectly-frank.com.


Write a Reply or Comment