Duluth resident Rod Raymond is perhaps most well-known for his ambition and entrepreneurship. With a larger-than-life personality and energy to spare, Raymond is the owner of lively Duluth hotspots Fitger’s Brewhouse and Burrito Union restaurant. But he is quickly becoming equally well-known for his philanthropy.
In the time of COVID-19, Raymond, in conjunction with his staff, is handing out bagged lunches, free of charge, to children of the East Hillside neighborhood. Lunches are distributed out of his Burrito Union restaurant, at 1332 East 4th Street. With local schools cancelled for the foreseeable future, many children would be going hungry if not for Raymond’s efforts.
Raymond has retained a crew of about eight staff at the Union. These employees are enhanced by the generous volunteer efforts of Annetta Shaw, a retired nurse, and Matt Evans, a physics professor. The Burrito Union crew distributes between 100 – 150 bagged lunches per day to children (and occasionally, adults) in need.
“There are no questions asked,” Raymond stated firmly. “Anyone can grab a lunch.”
I came from that world
For Raymond, his efforts are deeply personal. “I used to go to the food shelf as a boy,” he said. “We were really poor. I grew up in a trailer and I got free and reduced lunches. So, I came from that world. I know what these kids are going through.”
Daily lunch options vary; sometimes the kids receive a beef burrito prepared fresh at the restaurant. Other days they may receive a ham sandwich, mac and cheese, or a corn dog. Lunches are accompanied by a piece of fruit and a cookie. “I am using up my inventory, and also using donated money to buy other items,” he explained.
When tips come in, whether specifically allocated to help this lunch initiative, or through take-out or curbside orders, Raymond shares every dollar. “I didn’t do this promotion to try to help my business, it was to help the kids,” he said. “But people have been really good about giving nice tips, which we share with our staff. Larger tips go directly to buying more food.”
Bouncing back by giving back
At this time, the Brewhouse is breaking even, financially, while Burrito Union has lost a little bit of revenue. But Raymond believes his businesses will bounce back in the end. “You give, and it comes back to you three-fold. This has been quite the spiritual experience for me. It’s very meaningful.”
Raymond plans to continue to give out free lunches as long as school is out of session. He has started a GoFundMe account to raise money to keep the initiative going. So far, a little over $7,000 has been raised towards a goal of $15,000.
Additionally, Burrito Union has partnered up with CHUM, an entity which operates Duluth's largest food shelf and provides emergency shelter and supportive services for homeless individuals and families, to provide burrito lunches to health care workers. The plan is to distribute 50 lunches two times a week.
While Rod Raymond is considered by many to be a business leader in our community, he firmly believes anyone can step up and help. “You don’t have to be a mayor to lead an initiative,” he noted.