Restaurants turn to retail during pandemic shutdown

COVID-19, Restaurant Industry News,

Source: Atlanta Journal Constitution

As the clampdown on commerce spreads due to the coronavirus pandemic, restaurants have gotten creative in an effort to replace dine-in revenue. Many have simply transitioned to takeout-only models, serving their usual menu (or a slightly abbreviated version) through delivery services or direct pickup from customers. Quite a few have begun to sell alcohol on a takeout basis as well, thanks to an executive order signed by Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms that temporarily relaxed laws banning the practice

Some restaurants are going so far as to change their entire business model by transitioning to retail. On March 18, Inman Park restaurant Hampton + Hudson’s Instagram page announced the launch of a general store selling “food and necessities,” including toilet paper, soap, paper towels and fresh produce. Billy Streck, owner of Hampton + Hudson, said the move was inspired by a roll of toilet paper sitting on the bar. “We wanted to do something that would bring some attention but also help the community,” said Streck. “The restaurant was closed, and we’re sitting there talking about, ‘What do people need right now?’ I saw that roll of toilet paper and that was it.”

After some initial consternation, Streck said the restaurant’s remaining staff “completely bought into it.” His wife and business partner, Jenn, built the Hampton + Hudson General Store online ordering system in just two days. They started a delivery program in which former staff members who were laid off could deliver orders within three miles of the restaurant, keeping tips and the delivery fee. And the kitchen is still working; shoppers at the general store can order from Hampton + Hudson menu of upscale tavern fare.

Just a few days after the Hampton + Hudson pivot, Sun in my Belly transformed its patio into an open-air market selling fresh produce, family-style dinners and tubs of hummus, pimento cheese and chicken salad. Matt DeBusschere, a manager at Sun in my Belly who also runs the restaurant’s social media pages, said, “We’re just so grateful that people who could buy this stuff anywhere are choosing to buy it from us.”

At the moment, the shopping experience at Sun in my Belly stands in stark contrast to what you would find at most chain grocery stores. According to DeBusschere, the restaurant’s produce is moved directly from delivery trucks to the patio, and every shopper is given a complimentary pair of rubber gloves for safety. Thanks to an enthusiastic response from the immediate community, Sun in my Belly is doing alright financially. DeBusschere said that when the management team heard about the difficulty hourly workers were having with Georgia’s unemployment system, they chose to stay open to support their staff. 

In Peachtree Corners, another restaurant switched up its service model based on the immediate community’s needs. After hearing from their customers about how hard it was to purchase necessities at the grocery store, the team at Lazy Dog was inspired to create a $40 care package called the Lazy Dog Pantry. It includes milk, eggs, butter, chicken and even toilet paper. The restaurant continues to offer family meals starting at $25 and will donate a meal to a local charitable organization for every meal purchased.

Though food halls like Ponce City Market and Krog Street Market are technically closed to the public, the restaurants inside are still serving customers. Brezza Cucina in PCM has created a full slate of take-home meals and cocktail kits that restaurant staff will deliver curbside. Customers can order family-style meals that are cold, reheatable, ready-to-cook or already hot. The restaurant is also selling wine, beer and cocktails that customers can assemble at home. On the other side of PCM, City Winery is offering selections from its extensive wine list to go.

Across the now-trafficless connector, West Midtown restaurant AIX is offering fresh bread service each day as well as travel-friendly soups and stews by the quart. Fogo de Chao, with its two locations in Buckhead and Dunwoody, is selling raw meat by the pound in addition to a new takeout-only menu. 

Atlanta is also home to several pre-coronavirus shop-and-restaurant combos that are now perfect alternatives to the grocery store. Pine Street Market and its sister shop, Chop Shop, sell fresh, humanely raised meat as well as ready-to-eat refrigerated items for takeout. Storico Fresco in Buckhead is known as a lively Italian hotspot, but its market selling wine, cheese, and prepared dishes is the more popular attraction at the moment. Henri’s Bakery is a reliable spot for a grab-and-go meal, while Star Provisions remains open and is selling menu items from a variety of its sister restaurants in the chef Anne Quatrano-verse. With nothing but uncertainty on the horizon, restaurants are doing all they can to survive this pandemic while supporting their communities.

“Do you love your neighborhood? Do you love your city?” said DeBusschere. “This is the time to support the local restaurants that make your area unique.”