What happened to FK Your Diet Sunrise for 4 months? ‘We were helping people survive’ – Sun Sentinel


After Hurricane Ian struck the Gulf Coast in September, Jake Miller shut down his Sunrise restaurant, FK Your Diet, packed plywood, tarps and fellow employees into a pickup and tore west along Alligator Alley.

Upon arriving at their sister store in Fort Myers, the breakfast-lunch diner was as eerily quiet and powerless as the San Carlos Park neighborhood around it. Streetlights had been crunched under 30-foot downed trees. Trailer roofs were peeled back like tins of tuna. FK Your Diet was comparatively lucky. (“Only a few shattered windows and an inch of flooding” from storm surge, Miller recalled.)

Powered by six portable generators, 100 volunteers and donations from residents and area restaurants — plus its own checkbook — the restaurant got to work serving 10,000 free hot meals a day to hurricane victims in the devastated coastal community.

Overnight, FK Your Diet Fort Myers morphed from a breakfast-lunch diner into a food bank and charity, donating free meals — not to mention clothing and mattresses — to thousands of people a day.

“We put up a sign that said ‘free food,’ and long lines of people came,” Miller told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “We cooked up bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches, fried potatoes, whatever hadn’t spoiled. The first day, it was 1,500 people. Then it grew and grew and grew.”

The crisis effort meant that FK Your Diet Sunrise, the charity-minded diner whose name stands for “foster kids,” shut down just a month after opening — while its 25 staffers were rerouted to aid the rising demand in Fort Myers’ hard-hit community.

In the days and months following FK Your Diet Sunrise’s hiatus, comments flooded the 95,000-member “Let’s Eat, South Florida” Facebook group, which is operated by the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Most criticized the diner’s abrupt closure and “poor communication,” while others praised the relief efforts in Fort Myers.

Scenes of roadside debris and destruction are captured by FK Your Diet owner Doug Miller and shared on the restaurant's Facebook page.

“We didn’t abandon our responsibility over there, but our landlord made his feelings known and gave us a deadline to reopen,” says Miller. “It’s not like we were out golfing. We were helping people survive.”

Now, after sitting dormant for four months, FK Your Diet Sunrise has reopened on Commercial Boulevard with the majority of its original staff intact.

Overnight, the Fort Myers restaurant known for pairing good deeds with huge-portioned breakfasts morphed into a one-stop donation center and free kitchen, where people walk away with stuffed french toast and sides of baby diapers, canned food, sometimes queen-sized mattresses. Four months later, the restaurant hasn’t stopped serving hurricane victims.

“To pull off what we pulled off, we all had to be in Fort Myers,” said Doug Miller, Jake’s father, who operates five FK locations across Florida. “I considered closing [our locations in] Cape Coral and Orlando, but all the hotel rooms here were full and I had no place to put employees.”

Along with the Millers and Doug’s wife, Amy Eldridge, an army of 100 volunteers and staffers take turns cooking and bagging plates of shrimp and grits, french toast and smash burgers. When the kitchen closes down mid-afternoon, they pile into SUVs and fan out, making multiple daily runs to local campgrounds, trailer parks, Walmart and Home Depot parking lots — wherever the newly homeless now congregate with no means to travel.

Nearby businesses pitched in relief from the outset, Jake and Doug Miller said. Without power, Wendy’s donated 10,000 chicken nuggets and thousands of burger patties on the verge of spoiling. So did Bonefish Grill, providing 2,000 pounds of shrimp. Pallets of Gatorade and Stove Top stuffing showed up, as did 300 members of the Army National Guard, hungry for meals.

Some of the canned goods and donation items sent to FK Your Diet Fort Myers, which transformed overnight into a donation center and free kitchen helping victims of Hurricane Ian. The storm struck Florida's Gulf Coast on Sept. 28.

Meanwhile, FK Fort Myer’s social-media threads read like disaster-area dispatches, routing hurricane victims to free shelters, alerting drivers to downed power lines, and rallying volunteers to deliver hot meals to mobile-home parks.

“We have fed so many people today,” Doug Miller wrote on Oct. 1. “We are delivering to the trailer park, it’s so sad. We will do it all again tomorrow.”

“Thank you for all of the selfless acts,” one commenter wrote in late October. “I know who I will stay supporting once this all is over.”

Facebook is how Jolene Mandala, now a full-time volunteer, learned of FK Your Diet. The Fort Myers resident, who retired from her career in medical billing five days before Hurricane Ian struck the coast, saw the restaurant’s plea for volunteers.

“Once I went, I couldn’t quit going,” says Mandala, whose house 2 miles away, aside from shingle damage, was largely spared by Ian. “We had this really nice lady we helped who ran a lawn business and lost four of her live-in trailers. We helped her get it remodeled, gave her some ceiling fans, a dresser, a generator. If the storm got you, it got you good.”

Doug Miller and his wife, Amy Eldridge, are co-owners of FK Your Diet, a charity-minded, breakfast-lunch diner with locations in Sunrise, Fort Myers and three other Florida cities.

As a volunteer, her responsibilities include filling plastic cups with french toast syrup and running the donations intake tent next to the restaurant, where an avalanche of clothes, shoes, baby food, bed frames, end tables and lamps arrive daily. Since December, she’s been feeding locals from a food trailer on Fort Myers Beach, which FK took over from a church.

At least $100,000 in cash donations have flooded in over Cash App and PayPal, Doug Miller adds. That doesn’t include the random acts of charity from patrons who dine at the restaurant.

FK Your Diet, which hires former foster kids and aids local foster charities, serves an over-the-top comfort-food menu (think 5-pound breakfast burritos). It’s a way to help foster children overcome a central fear: not knowing where their next meal comes from, Doug Miller says. Often, that involves feeding patrons who can’t afford to pay.

Chris Thompson says he bought a stake in the restaurant after volunteering for two weeks in Fort Myers. He took over from Jake Miller at FK Your Diet Sunrise and reopened in January.

“On my second day in the restaurant, a homeless guy comes in asking, ‘Is there really free food?’” Thompson recalls. “He ate and put $1.13 on the table anyway, saying that’s all he had. A lady overhears that and donated $500 on the spot and handed that man $20 on the way out.

“Honestly, I had to call my dad and I said, ‘You won’t believe what’s going on here.’”

A donations intake tent set up next to FK Your Diet Fort Myers in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian provided everything from baby diapers to queen-sized mattresses to storm victims.

Florida State Rep. Adam Botana (R-Bonita Springs) says he learned about FK Your Diet after hearing that a food trailer was feeding police officers on Fort Myers Beach. He says the restaurant is vital to the San Carlos Park neighborhood, home to “good families and lots of working-class folks.”

In early January, with unspent funds from his 2022 reelection campaign, he handed a $10,000 check to FK Your Diet.

“The trailer parks around here got hurt the worst, because they’re in a floodplain and don’t have insurance,” Botana says. “FK’s in the perfect area to help. They turned to this pay-what-you want model that really works, because they’re genuinely good people.”

Doug Miller says Hurricane Ian has changed his mind about FK Your Diet. Over the next year, he plans to convert all locations — including Sunrise — into pay-what-you-want free kitchens, supported by donations.

“We’re using food for good,” he says. “They’re going to be places where you can get a decent meal. And if you’re wealthy, maybe you donate a little extra.”

To help with FK Your Diet’s mission and efforts, go to FKYourDiet.com.

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