WRITER | MIKAYLA BALK
In the chaos of COVID-19, many small business owners have had to worry about their company’s stability and future. Many beloved restaurants have had the misfortune of closing down during quarantine, and others have had to make do with lower dining capacities. Thankfully, innovation is a byproduct of struggle.
Numerous eateries have adopted clever new business practices through the pandemic, and the loyalty of customers, both new and old, has kept them thriving. Here are just a few.
Max’s South Seas Hideaway, Grand Rapids
This tiki bar was closed for three months before reopening, and they took the opportunity to debut a new canned cocktail line. The series of diverse beverages offers around 30 flavors, the most popular being the Painkiller and the Mai Tai, which have been selling very well. The cocktails were crafted by Martin Kate, an internationally renowned rum expert and bestseller of a cocktail book. While closed, the cocktail line constituted 100% of their sales for a month. They also chose to launch a second restaurant offering takeout only after seeing a demand in the market for food to go.
The Whitney, Detroit
The Whitney, known for its dine-in historical mansion, could easily have lost business during quarantine, but they had something else in mind. A three-hour event called The Big Night End was held while The Whitney was closed, hosted via YouTube, to give people a virtual fine dining experience. A tour of the mansion was shared with guests, a pianist was hired to play correspondingly elegant music, and a tuxedoed server arrived at participants’ doorsteps to deliver candles, wine, and a full meal. Guests were seated virtually, and from there, the chef instructed them on how to prepare the meal with a minimum of work required on their part. The Whitney also started selling Afternoon Tea packages that come with china teacups and scones, mostly bought as gift baskets, and a package called the Grill Box, which features steaks with house seasoning and champagne.
Restaurant Partners Management Group, Grand Rapids
Humanitarianism makes for great exposure, as the restaurants of Restaurant Partners Management have learned, and good treatment of employees makes them eager to return to work. In March, after the quarantine mandate went into effect, they gave leftover supplies to food banks in Traverse City and Grand Rapids and donated their rubber gloves to frontline workers. They helped healthcare workers further by sending food from the Bagel Beanery and the Beltline Bar to medical offices. Additionally, the Beltline Bar, home of the famous wet burrito, offered a unique product in lieu of their usual Cinco de Mayo party this year. Family packs with meals, sombreros, and piñatas were prepared and sold, becoming a huge hit.
Owner Jeff Lobdell says, “The best thing we did during the pandemic was taking care of our people.” Weekly distribution sites were set up to give staff homemade meals, toilet paper, sanitizer, and other supplies; the employees’ portion of insurance was paid for while they were on unemployment as well. Furloughed staff were happy to return to work because of their treatment at the onset of COVID.
The “pay it forward” attitude was noticed by the community, and within a month or reopening, about 80% of pre-quarantine business had returned.
Grand River Brewery, Marshall
Along with their singular to-go meal options, Grand River Brewing has been offering family meals called Power Bowls – rice, Brazilian black beans, macaroni, and Caesar salad – as well as barbeque dinners and cocktails to go. Recognizing the demand for to-go food during quarantine, they opened an entirely new burger joint called Doll n’ Burgers, which offered curbside meal pickup. Through this venture, they were able to employ their existing equipment and staff and redistribute resources by selling their wholesale ingredients to grocery stores.
The Kitchen by Cooking With Que, Detroit
Regardless of your diet – vegan, carnivore, or pescatarian – Cooking with Que offers healthy, fresh home delivery options for those who want a good meal without the grocery shopping or search for recipes. Subscribers can sign up for plans from one meal to three months’ worth, with options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The intent behind Cooking with Que was to help people on their healthy-eating journey. There are gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy-free options. The worry-free quarantine family meal prep continues to provide a large course meal for an easy family feast.
The examples here are just a handful of what restaurants and food industry businesses have done to survive and thrive during COVID. Though we would love to support every company out there, we just don’t have the space to do so. However, you can certainly support businesses in your area – a bit of online research and outreach to friends for suggestions will help you on your way!