It didn’t take long for Max McGarity to come up with a plan to help local families who just had received shocking news.

On March 12, Gov. Mike DeWine announced at an afternoon press conference that by the end of the day March 16, all public schools in the state would close for at least three weeks to combat the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

A few hours later, the Twitter account for McGarity’s Smoked on High Barbeque Co., which includes his original Brewery District barbecue destination at 755 S. High St., announced one of the first local deals for those affected: free pulled-chicken sandwiches at the restaurant for children while they were out of school, no purchase necessary, during business hours and while supplies lasted.

He maintained the offer as a takeout option when the governor decided March 15 to close all dining rooms at Ohio bars and restaurants, though takeout and delivery services still were permitted.

“We’ve had 20-plus kids coming in every day, so it’s been a success,” he said March 19.

McGarity’s restaurant has been open in a Victorian-era house on South High Street for less than three years. It was founded as a food truck in 2007, and McGarity opened the brick-and-mortar restaurant in August 2017.

McGarity said he attended Columbus City Schools as a youngster, and he was enrolled in the school-lunch program, so he understands when families and youngsters want a quality homemade sandwich option but might be on a tight budget.

The restaurant’s 7-ounce sandwich – with pickles, pickled onions and optional barbecue sauce – is a $6 value, McGarity said.

It was available to any student accompanied by a parent or guardian at the High Street location during its business hours, which are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. (The offer was not available in Smoked on High’s locations in the Kroger stores in Columbus’ Northland neighborhood and Pickerington.)

The sandwiches are “just a way to give something positive, and hopefully people will come in,” McGarity said.

McGarity said staff members were not checking student IDs, but he encouraged youngsters and their families to be on the honor system.

“I told my employees to use their best judgment (when serving),” he said.

Smoked on High has a charitable spirit, regularly working with Holy Family Church Soup Kitchen & Food Pantry, 584 W. Broad St., McGarity said.

“That’s something that’s important to me: feeding the less fortunate,” he said.

ATTENTION PARENTS! Next Wednesday, kids can get an order of Drummies or Pulled Chicken for FREE for the next 3 weeks.

Let us help remove some of the burden of the schools being closed and let us provide to the community that has always supported us.

No purchase necessary!

— Smoked On High BBQ (@SmokedOnHighBBQ)March 12, 2020

Legacy gives back, too

Smoked on High wasn’t the only central Ohio barbecue joint with south Columbus roots to launch an effort to feed children who are out of school.

Legacy Smokehouse, which started as a food trailer in October 2017 at the corner of High Street and Thurman Avenue, south of the Brewery District, has been offering a pulled-pork slider or smoked-turkey or all-beef hot dog, apple sauce and a drink for all school-age children, from preschool to high school, for lunch.

The meal was available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays at Legacy’s Hilliard location, 3987 Main St., and it also had been served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays at 340 Greenlawn Ave. in south Columbus.

However, the Greenlawn location closed March 21, said Chad Smock, one of the Legacy founders and owners.

“That location has been a constant challenge,” Smock said, referring to nearby construction projects and its out-of-the-way location.

The Greenlawn location had opened in July 2018.

Smock said the Hilliard restaurant, which opened in December 2018, remains strong and the partners are looking at several possible expansion sites across town.

He said community members’ ability to grab a quick lunch, valued at $4, is a nice break for parents and children.

“I live in the community, and I just know how hard this business shutdown and school shutdown is on everyone,” said Smock, the Hilliard Davidson High School girls lacrosse coach.

He said the Hilliard City Schools has done an admirable job feeding hungry children during the COVID-19 crisis.

Legacy has done its part, too, by frequently providing gift cards to students and catering events, Smock said.

“We donate quite often to quite a few of the schools,” he said. “I think it’s really important as a restaurant. We’re not just a restaurant – we’re here to be part of the community, to help the community out in any way we can.”

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary