Don Japanese Kitchen supplies community with essential items

Sabrina LeBoeuf

Behind the University Co-Op is a food truck handing out more than just boxes of french fries paired with spicy mayo. 

Don Japanese Kitchen is taking orders for care packages containing some of the most sought after items of the coronavirus pandemic: toilet paper, paper towels and sanitizer.

Austin location manager Ryan Hardy said customers can also place orders for fresh produce and meat by the pound and pick up their package 24 hours later. The restaurant does not charge customers any more than it costs to make the care packages, and customers ages 69 and over can get their care packages for free.

“Everybody was out panic-buying, and if we went out to the store we would try to get anything as far as meat, rice, pasta, even ramen,” Hardy said. “You couldn’t find anything in the stores. We were like, ‘Why not give back to our community when we have the ability to?’”

Care packages cost $6 and include two rolls of toilet paper, one paper towel roll, one pound of rice, gloves and three sanitizer tablets, each of which creates one gallon of sanitizer. Customers can place their orders via text or Facebook Messenger.

Hardy said the food truck has sold 20 care packages to American Campus, which were given  out to residents. Students, he said, have been the primary buyers of care packages compared to other members of the Austin community.

"We had people kicked out of the dorm moving into an apartment because they wanted to stay in Austin,” Hardy said. “They’re like, ‘We need toilet paper, paper towels. We need sanitizer.’ So they come by, pick up some food and get a care package for the new apartment.”

Don also has a brick and mortar location in San Marcos doing something similar. They transformed the restaurant into a mini mart where customers can grab essential items, such as toilet paper and paper towels, while they wait for their food. Like the Austin location, customers age 69 and up can get their items free of charge.

The restaurant’s locations will continue to provide care packages as long as people need them, Hardy said.

Katherine Shumaker, a communication and leadership junior and former Don employee, said giving back to the community is part of the restaurant’s identity. 

"They're always in tune with what West Campus is in need of,” Shumaker said. “It's not surprising me that they're going out of their way to do this."

Alex Allen, a plan II and communication and leadership sophomore, used to frequent the restaurant at least once a week before returning to her hometown. She said her last time at the food truck was the Friday before spring break.

“It’s been so long,” Allen said. “It sucks, but it’s more important to keep people safe and healthy, so I would gladly give up my weekly Don runs if I can help people stay healthy.”

Hardy said the food truck appreciates everyone that is still able to visit the restaurant, especially since business is slower than usual. He said he’s sad that many students returned home but glad to help the community in any way they can.

“(The situation is) unfortunate, but as long as everyone is safe, that’s the main thing,” Hardy said. “We are strictly trying to give back to our community when the community is in need. We’re just trying to spread love.”