For weeks, the toilet paper shelves at most grocery stores and supermarkets have remained empty. As such, even here at MEL, we’ve suggested using not-even-remotely-adjacent toilet paper alternatives to help mitigate the great toilet paper shortage. Rocks, grass, snow and tree branches are but some of the suggestions Cody Lundin, a primitive and urban survival expert, recommended in his book, When All Hell Breaks Loose, per my colleague Magdalene Taylor’s report. “Rocks are a favorite of mine as there seems to be a shape and size for every orifice, but watch out for the sharp parts,” Lundin wrote. “Note: If it’s too hot to pick up, it’s too hot to wipe with. Watch for critters such as scorpions or fire ants in the Southwest.”
Yes, this is what it’s come to: wiping our asses on lukewarm pebbles. Sadly, such a level of desperation applies to nearly all walks of life during the coronavirus pandemic. Restaurants throughout the country, whose livelihoods are mostly on pause as everyone attempts to keep their social distance, are trying their best to do what they can and sell what they can to keep their staff employed and their doors open. And now, that includes the near-mythical roll of toilet paper.
In L.A., Chef Wes Avila’s taco-truck-turned-brick-and-mortar-restaurant, Guerilla Tacos, is offering “emergency taco kits” for $155 that include, along with approximately 60 ready-to-eat tacos — half roasted chicken and half carne asada — one roll of toilet paper to help persuade customers to order takeout. And while that only equates to roughly 16 sheets per taco, in fairness, they were originally hoping to be able to offer people a lot more: Their “emergency taco kit” on March 17th — the first day the kits were offered — included the same package of goods but with four rolls of toilet paper. “But we had to scale it back because we were running out too quickly,” a volunteer helping out her friend, the owner of the restaurant, tells me. “The restaurant buys in bulk and there are three bathrooms, so we had a backstock of toilet paper and we’re clearing out what we can.”
The same volunteer explains that the restaurant began promoting its “emergency taco kit” via their various social media channels. “We have a decent following [56,000 followers on Instagram] and it’s the first banner you see when you log on,” she tells me.
Stephen Sakulsky, the general manager of Osteria La Buca, an upscale Italian restaurant in L.A., tells me that they, too, had a backstock of toilet paper and are selling it in packs of two for $4 on their newly established online marketplace. In addition to toilet paper, they’re also selling other essential groceries like beer, pasta, tomatoes, milk, eggs, and of course, prosciutto, in order to stave off having to close down their business completely.
But it’s not just restaurants in L.A. that have had to pivot their business models to adapt to these unprecedented times of enforced social isolation. All over the country, restaurant owners are looking into their stockrooms to sell what they can to keep their business from drowning. At DeSarno’s, a restaurant in Charlotte, meal deals also include a roll of toilet paper. “The meals feed 2-3 people and include a side and bread — along with a roll of toilet paper — for $19.95,” reports the Charlotte Observer. Per the same report, Paper Plane Deli & Market — a newly opened deli in Charlotte — took it one step further and is “giving out free toilet paper to anyone who needs it — as long as its supply lasts.”
There are other restaurant owners — those lucky enough not to have to siphon from their backstock of toilet paper — giving out rolls of toilet paper free of charge, too. Barry Parker, the owner of Classic Burger in West Springfield, Massachusetts, told Western Mass News that it wasn’t long after he noticed the toilet paper shortage that he realized he had distributors “at his fingertips and could order extra rolls and start giving them away.” “We used three different distributors that ended up getting a quantity of toilet paper that we could give out,” he told the paper. “So I’m hoping other people really need it; you know, if somebody comes out and says, ‘I’m out of toilet paper,’ I’m gonna give you a roll of toilet paper. You don’t need to buy $12 worth of food there.”
There is nothing that prevents restaurants from giving away toilet paper with their food. “It’s the same as putting napkins in your to-go order,” the volunteer at Guerilla Tacos says. And as far as selling a few rolls of toilet paper from your online restaurant marketplace, well, there’s nothing in the law that says you can’t do that either, as long as you’re not charging exorbitant prices for it. “It’s illegal in California to sell essential goods and services at excessive and unjustified prices during a declared emergency,” reports KPTV in its article about eight people who were arrested in California for reselling toilet paper at ridiculous prices. “Violators can face up to a year in jail and a fine up to $10,000.”
Again, though, these restaurants aren’t trying to price gouge customers who, in some cases, have become so desperate for toilet paper that they’ve had to use old T-shirts to wipe. Quite the contrary — they’re just finding innovative ways to keep the lights on. And if that means selling a roll of toilet paper from the stockroom to convince people to take a chance on their tacos, pizza, pasta or latest signature dish, well, then that’s what they’ll do.