Patachou Pays it Forward

Martha Hoover is a sex-crimes prosecutor turned restaurant mogul who's been featured in Vogue, InStyle, and Eater. Photo courtesy of Martha Hoover.

Since 1989, Martha (Sanders) Hoover, BA’77, JD’80, the founder of Patachou Inc., has been bringing the people of Indianapolis together with cinnamon-sugar toast and homemade granola.

In March 2020, her business—built, she says, with the sole purpose of creating community—was crippled by the coronavirus pandemic. Hoover was forced to pause dine-in service at all five of her restaurants—Cafe Patachou, Petite Chou, Napolese, Public Greens, and Bar One Fourteen—and to layoff roughly 350 members of the Patachou work family.

But she didn’t send those employees home without a safety net. Created nearly a decade ago, the Patachou Employee Emergency Relief Fund was established with a situation such as COVID-19 in mind.

“[The PEER Fund is designed] to help eligible staff and their families with basic necessities during times of financial hardship due to circumstances beyond their control,” says Hoover, who adds that more than $90,000 has been raised for the fund since mid-March thanks to carry-out sales, tips, and donations from the public.

In addition to PEER, Hoover continues to funnel resources into the Patachou Foundation, which she founded in 2013.

The Patachou Foundation encouraged its social media community to send in “lunchbox letters” to accompany their scratch-made meals. Photo courtesy of The Patachou Foundation.

Prior to the pandemic, the foundation distributed 2,000 after-school meals to eight Indianapolis-area schools each week. Today, the team is serving four times that number—roughly 8,500 scratch-made meals are delivered through the foundation’s neighborhood-based partners.

“Families in Indianapolis now face prolonged school closures and limited childcare, layoffs, and disrupted availability of food due to raided grocery store shelves,” Hoover says. “In a city that already falls short on access to fresh foods, hunger relief work is more essential than ever.”

As a way to speak out about “systemic inequities exacerbated by COVID-19,” such as food insecurity and access to health care, the Patachou Foundation recently launched a video series titled “With Everything Going on Right Now.”

The first installment of the series features Hoover and two fellow restaurateurs as they discuss how the coronavirus pandemic has brought the restaurant industry—which employs more than 11 million people in the U.S. alone—to its knees.

The latest installment is a conversation between Hoover and Devita Davison, the executive director of FoodLab Detroit, as they drill down into the history of racism.

What’s ahead for Patachou Inc.? Yet another pivot—one that positions the company to care for its community amid a global health crisis, and now, civil unrest.

“We are basically opening brand new businesses in a strange new world. Everything has shifted considerably. In typical Patachou fashion, we embraced our hard pause and are determined to come out the other side stronger, with radical optimism,” Hoover said in a recent message to her Instagram followers.

“We support those fighting for equal justice for all and vow to do our part to be better anti-racist allies, to better support and advocate for African Americans, and just do better at being better humans. I cannot imagine that the majority of Americans or the majority of my customers would think any differently.”

Martha Hoover is just one of many IU alumni who have joined in the fight against COVID-19. This story series is our way of recognizing those who are going above and beyond during this health crisis. To us, they are nothing short of heroes.

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Written By
Samantha Stutsman
Samantha Stutsman, BAJ'14, is a Bloomington, Ind., native and a senior content specialist at the IU Alumni Association.