Dallas, TX restaurant owner buys formula and gives it away for free

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A mother walked 45 minutes to access the Benji Arslanovski reserve. Until her stash ran out, another was terrified of running away before she found him. A grandfather in his 80s, helping a daughter stuck at work, drives an hour to meet the man who could get what so many parents desperately and unsuccessfully seek.

Last week, Arslanovski saw a formula shortage hit parents across the country and realized he had privileged access to a supply of the product. Over the past week, the 51-year-old Dallas-Fort Worth-area restaurant owner ordered 56 cases of formula, clearing the dispenser that normally supplies his business, Our Place Restaurant, with things like toilet paper, paper towels and chicken. . Although he originally intended to sell it at cost, he instead gave it away to hundreds of people trying to feed their babies.

“Moms, dads not knowing, will they be able to feed their babies? And it makes me sad to think — because my kids are all eating solid foods now — but man, not knowing if they can eat would be scary,” he told the Washington Post on Tuesday.

US infant formula shortage leaves parents scrambling

The parents’ fears could last for weeks or even months. The shortage — a perfect storm of pandemic-induced supply chain disruptions, high inflation and formula safety recalls — began months ago, but has hit parents especially hard recently, The Post reported. . Many now find themselves running to multiple stores and scouring the internet trying to score the increasingly valuable item.

On Monday, formula maker Abbott Nutrition reached an agreement with the Food and Drug Administration to resolve safety issues related to a Michigan plant that has been closed for more than three months due to safety concerns, according to The Post. Abbott previously said it would take up to two months after such a deal for the company to get the formula back on store shelves.

Arslanovski and his wife have three sons – ages 6, 4 and 2 – so they are not among the jostling parents. But watching the news of the shortage, he recalled that US Foods, his former employer and current supplier, was stockpiling infant formula since the company had contracts with healthcare facilities.

On Thursday, Arslanovski went to the company’s online ordering system and found that 56 cases were available. He consulted with his wife, who confirmed the formula was for general use and not a specialty item, then purchased six cases and announced on the restaurant’s Facebook page that the formula was available. He said he intended to sell it at cost until one of the first relatives to accept the offer, a mother, cried and told him she was so grateful he had ended his odyssey to ensure food for his newborn.

“And I said, ‘What the heck, what the heck with that, I’m just going to give it away for free,'” Arslanovski said. “And so I did that, and it went so fast” – in less than an hour, he added.

He restocked. This time he bought 12 cases at $66 a pop. It went fast too, so he got 20 more. In total, he spent about $3,700 and “kept handing it out.”

Arslanovski said he checked with US Foods to make sure the company’s supply wouldn’t get anyone in trouble.

“They are great at what I was doing,” he added.

Arslanovski said his ad hoc formula operation is his attempt to return the generosity of the Dallas-Fort Worth community and the support of his business during the pandemic. As Our Place restaurant struggled, Arslanovski struggled. He got two loans from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, opened as a take-out restaurant only, reduced waiters’ hours and encouraged them to go on furlough and find other jobs until the pandemic subsides.

“You have 41 employees watching you for answers and you just found out,” he said, adding that “covid was scary for restaurant owners… man, it was scary.”

During those early days of the pandemic, people stopped to ask how they could help, gave waiters money and ordered food when they probably wouldn’t just because they wanted to help, he said.

“So I kind of wanted to give back to my community,” he said.

FDA reaches agreement with infant formula factory to resume production

Arslanovski said he would continue to buy and donate formula until the shortage subsides. He plans to order all the cases US Foods gets in stock, and said employees there told him they would alert him when they did. Additionally, a hospital donated more than 100 cases on Tuesday after hearing about its new role as a formula broker. Our Place staff will begin distributing the cans to parents on Wednesday.

Arslanovski said he hopes his project will inspire restaurateurs and managers across the country to reach out to their suppliers for the formula and take it to their communities.

“We are only a small corner of America,” he said. “Hopefully they see this…and find a way to get it to customers.”


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