With in-dining bans, restaurants try to survive on food, drinks to go

COVID-19 , Industry News ,

Source: Atlanta Journal Constitution

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, bars, nightclubs and restaurant dining rooms have been closed in Georgia, and many cities, including Atlanta, now have shelter-at-home requirements.

But exceptions for going to grocery stores and restaurants serving takeout food are near universal. And many restaurants open for takeout and curbside service are offering drinks to go, including beer, wine and even cocktails in some form — though the rules vary depending on where you are.

Partners Ryan Turner, Todd Mussman and Chris Hall of Unsukay restaurant group own and operate three popular neighborhood restaurants, Muss & Turner’s and MTH Pizza in Smyrna, and Local Three in Atlanta. All three currently have limited menus with items available for carryout, along with beer and wine to go, and online ordering.

“The ability to sell wine and beer has been a financial help to our restaurants,” Hall said. “In good times, cash flow is important to restaurants. Right now, it’s more important than ever. The fact we can sell wine or beer we have already paid for is a big boost to cash flow, and we are grateful to the state and municipalities for granting us this exception during these unprecedented times.”

The manner in which Unsukay restaurants are able to sell alcohol, especially beer and cocktails, has sometimes been a problem, though.

“It’s been hard to find growlers on short notice to move draft beer, so we’re going with Mason jars,” Hall said. “Many of us are selling just-add-booze cocktail kits. The Brown Thrasher is by far our most popular drink, and we are selling the mix by the quart so people can get their own medicine at home.”

The city of Decatur recently prohibited on-premise dining. But it now allows takeout and delivery services between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. daily, and permits restaurants with a current alcohol license to sell beverages in sealed containers for off-premises consumption.

Those changes sparked Andy Gonzales, the chef and partner at Steinbeck’s, to reinvent both the service and the menu at the minuscule but buzzing Oakhurst neighborhood pub, including selling growlers of beer, bottles of wine, and cocktails to go.

“When we got the Decatur email, it was honestly a bit of a relief,” Gonzales said. “They took the weight of staying open off of us. We were no longer allowed to entertain, so we had to make things happen on our scale. That’s what I signed on to do, so we decided to come up with some solutions.

“I have been gifted a staff of amazing veterans who are up for anything I want to try. So, I asked if they’d be willing to deliver orders to people’s homes and they said yes. I asked Kysha (Cyrus, the bartender) if she could put together some delicious cocktail standards to go and she said yes. Pickup window? Yes. Learn how to pour growlers? Yes.”

To keep his staff working, and keep the pub alive, Gonzales has been enticing regular customers with new menu items, and will soon reveal a brand-new spring menu. But like Hall, he noted that ensuring that beverage sales continue rolling along is key.

“Without selling booze, restaurants are certainly feasible, but the profit from it takes a lot of pressure off of operators,” he said. “Alcohol rarely goes bad, requires less labor than food, pairs great with the food you serve, and helps create a more convivial atmosphere.”

At FIG.1 on Main Street in Tucker, owner Jessica Varnell recently changed her business model for the third time. Once primarily a beer shop selling growlers, and known as Growler Time, it later became a restaurant, and now it’s a takeaway hybrid of the two concepts. Varnell is selling beer, wine, cider and sake in growlers to go, plus canned beer and kegs.

“This is what we are doing during this pandemic to survive,” Varnell said. “Luckily, we have been able to change quickly back to our original model and sell growlers. We shut down our dining room over a week ago, and have blended our two models together, selling to-go and curbside food orders, selling grocery items, take-and-bake pizzas, and family meals.

“This would not have been done without the support of our amazing customers and help from others. We got a gracious package of lids from the Beer Growler in Avondale so we could continue to sell growlers. We are also receiving help from our distributors, Eagle Rock, Cheney Brothers, and General Wholesale, providing growlers at very little cost, and selling us packaged beer in cans to supplement the growlers. The Georgia Restaurant Association has also been really helpful in providing direction and assistance. Their responsiveness is amazing, especially during this high-demand period. It has truly been encouraging to see everyone come together during these times.”

 
A sign at the entry to Storico Fresco in Buckhead informs shoppers of the store’s safety measures during the coronavirus crisis. CONTRIBUTED BY STORICO FRESCO
Photo: Storico Fresco

Storico Fresco Alimentari e Ristorante in Buckhead is billed as “a one-stop shop for everything traditional Italian.” But now the restaurant has stopped serving lunch and dinner and closed its bar, and is operating as a grocery with a new meals to-go menu, a half-price wine list, and curbside delivery.

But besides just keeping their business open, owners Pietro Gianni and Mike Patrick are intent on making it a safe place to shop and for people to take their food and wine home.

“We really wanted to address the issue of hygiene and social distancing,” Gianni said. “If you come in, there are sanitizers, gloves are required and we’re about to have masks. We don’t allow more than five people at a time inside, and we keep people 6 feet apart at all times. We’re from Italy, and we’ve seen the disaster that’s happened in Italy, because the authorities came in too late to quarantine people for real.

“We want to put the awareness out there that you can do business, and do good food and wine, and help people feed their families in a responsible manner. But I’m going to say 80% of our business is curbside. We have people walk your wine out with gloves. You’re safer here than at any grocery store, I’ll tell you that.”

WHERE TO GO

Local Three, 3290 Northside Parkway NW, Atlanta. 404-968-2700, localthree.com.

Muss & Turner’s, 1675 Cumberland Parkway SE, Suite 309, Smyrna. 770-434-1114, mussandturners.com.

MTH Pizza, 1675 Cumberland Parkway, Suite 415, Smyrna. 678-424-1333, mthpizza.com

Steinbeck’s, 659 East Lake Drive, Decatur. 404-373-1116, steinbecksbar.com.

FIG.1, 2323 Main St., Suite A1, Tucker. 770-559-9563, the-fig.com.

Storico Fresco, 3167 Peachtree Road NE, Suite S, Atlanta. 404-500-2181, storicofresco.com.