The day after Hurricane Laura rolled through parts of Louisiana and Texas, Rikesh Patel, the owner of several McDonald’s in Louisiana, made a call to corporate. Within 24 hours, a restaurant on wheels arrived in Lake Charles to help feed families in need of a hot meal.
Laura, the strongest hurricane to strike the state of Louisiana since 1856, deprived many of their basic necessities, damaged homes and businesses, knocked down power lines and caused flooding in some areas. The storm left six people dead in Louisiana, including at least four from falling trees.
Patel estimates 90% of residents are still without electricity and running water, even two weeks after landfall.
“Pictures don’t do it (destruction) justice,” he said. “It’s so much worse than what you’re seeing on social media.”
And without running water or electricity, having fresh, warm meals would have been difficult.
Patel’s quick thinking prompted him to call McDonald’s corporate office just one day after Laura made landfall in hopes of receiving a self-sustained mobile kitchen known as the McRig. The next day, the kitchen on wheels arrived from Kentucky.
From there, Patel rallied whatever employees he could to staff the truck and serve as many people possible.
For six days thereafter, Patel said they served over 10,000 free brown bag meals of McDonald’s cheeseburgers, fries and bottled water.
“It was just really neat to see the whole family aspect, of how we’ve always said we’re like a family and it just really came to life during such a tragedy,” he said.
Patel owns and operates 25 McDonald’s in Louisiana, eight of which are in Lake Charles and surrounding areas. He said his Lake Charles locations were the most affected and remain closed because they don’t have power or running water and there’s severe building damage. Patel said he has about 400-500 employees at those eight Lake Charles locations and estimates 90-95% of them evacuated ahead of Laura.
For employees who did come back, Patel said he’s offered to give them time and a half pay and housing for those whose homes were damaged.
A McDonald’s spokesperson told CNN the McRigs are typically used for disaster relief and community events.
Even though they’re not operating the McRig anymore, there’s still a lot of work to be done within the community, Patel said. With restaurants slowly opening back up, he said he wants to give his employees an opportunity to still make money while serving meals to those in need. Some of Patel’s restaurants have opened again with a limited menu and hours.
The immediate needs of the community are still essential supplies: Generators, water, meals that are easy to transport, according to Patel.
“We know that the rebuilding process will take a lot of time,” he said. “But we know that Lake Charles is going to come through this and that we’ll be stronger than ever.”