"I've had neighbors with seven feet of water," says Brent Erenwert, president of Brothers Produce. But his Friendswood home was barely touched and he knew how lucky he was. Once he was able to leave his neighborhood on Tuesday, his destination was clear. Erenwert headed to his Gulfgate facility, which he says has the largest fruit and vegetable inventory in the South other than H-E-B.
"I haven't driven a truck route in about 20 years," he says. But that's what he did that night, beginning deliveries to shelters. Before closing the distributor's processing facility, employees had cut up vast quantities of lettuce for salads and fresh pineapple for fruit salad at schools.
With schools closed and a brief time without power in the storage area, these were among the first items on the truck. He's careful to note, however, that foods past their expiration date were dumped. Erenwert worked through the night, using Facebook to track where deliveries were needed.
The next morning, says Erenwert, "The biggest challenge was getting employees." With the crew he was able to assemble, Brothers Produce began to make deliveries not just to shelters, but to restaurants. On Tuesday night, Erenwert's friend Ziggy Gruber had called in with an order. That advance preparation was part of how both Kenny & Ziggy's were able to open with a full menu on Wednesday, Erenwert explains. And he wasn't the only one.
"In this town, our market share is 2:1 over everybody so we’re going to get the influx of people coming in," he says.
Erenwert says that for now, service is running smoothly and that he's had no trouble getting out-of-state deliveries. His fleet of 105 delivery trucks is supplying food not just to his 3,000 or so restaurant clients, but also more than 30 shelters. But Erenwert worries about what will happen when school starts again.
For HISD, that date is September 11, but Erenwert is concerned that in other surrounding communities, the day might come sooner. Supplying school districts on top of his shelter runs seems like a losing battle. But shelters are his priority.
"I’ve told them I’ll do it as long as they need me," he says. "The problem is, like musical chairs, they're one place, then it starts moving somewhere else. At George R. Brown, I don’t know how long they're going to stay before they start having conventions there again."
In his effort to help even beyond when shelters are in need of provisions, Erenwert has started a YouCaring page that will raise money for the Rotary Club of Friendswood, the best way to get money directly to his hometown. But he says the biggest task at hand is simply returning to something like the status quo pre-Harvey.
"The industry will have to recover quick. In the end, a restaurant has to open and be a business—restaurants have to go on," he says. "Life goes on."