A high percentage of America’s small business economy is heavily weighted towards the dining sector. Projected U.S. sales (pre-pandemic) for 2020 was $899 billion or 4.2 percent of the gross domestic product, according to the National Restaurant Association. Pre-pandemic, 70 percent of the fast food business was done in drive-through or take out model, so it’s not new to them.
But for other restaurateurs in Jewish Atlanta, the health crisis forced them to turn their business model around “on a dime,” retraining and retaining employees, beefing up social media communication and delivery options, sanitizing, modifying menus, and rearranging suppliers. As of early May, many restaurants were readying to reopen.
Others were not sold on that time frame and will continue monitoring health statistics.
Consider profit margins if only one half of tables can be served due to social distancing. Co-owner Scott Bogartz of Bogartz Food Artz is measuring and spacing out tables on the patio so “folks can sit outside and enjoy a mixed cocktail along with their meal.”
In early May, he said, “We just opened the patio. We will be opening the dining room this week. Dining room capacity will be limited and reservation-driven.”
Proactive chef-owner Peter Teimori of Zafron Restaurant said, “I have already ordered long laser temperature reading implements to monitor fevers.”
Also, in spite of enduring losses, many are taking meals to frontline workers or the needy. Souper Jenny Levison is keeping all four locations open; and on Saturday she offers free grocery pickup to unemployed workers in the hospitality industry, among others.
These 10 Jewish entrepreneurs weigh in on the challenge.
Howard Aaron, Goldberg’s Bagel and Deli, maintained six locations. They reopened May 2 for limited seating and were taking customers’ temperatures before allowing them to enter. But in March, “We closed the airport and Avalon, thus we are using that staff to delivery free meals to shelters and frontline workers at Piedmont and Emory” hospitals. The stores offer “credit card to curb” for no touch, and no more than 10 people are allowed to shop concurrently inside. The menu boasts 10 bagel varieties, and Aaron states that breakfast items such as egg sandwiches and box lunches are most popular.
Heading Nowak’s in Virginia Highland, Blaiss Nowak is handling his own delivery and encouraging website orders.“We have a limited menu and great wine. Popular items are steaks, burgers, whole roasted chicken and grilled salmon.” He states that they are “doubly ready” to reopen by employing the spacious private rooms with little customer staff interaction. “We won’t be 6 feet apart; we will be 12 feet!”
Crema Espresso Gourmet, Dunwoody, is a European style coffee shop serving French pastries, quiches, sandwiches, salads, quality coffee and desserts.
Owner Erez Inbal said, “When we first learned about COVID, we immediately shifted to an online and drive-through model where we are now serving on a daily basis. Our entire family has come together and to work full time to keep our business alive. The response from costumers has really been amazing. People have adapted to the new model and are using our Crema App.” Marcus JCC Rabbi Brian Glusman said,” I just stopped by Crema for muffins and coffee. Erez is a true mensch and community partner. He and his team have stepped up to the plate and have been a bright spot during these difficult times.”
Chai Peking, which is strictly kosher, has continuously operated since they are located inside Toco Hills Kroger. Owner Reuven Robbins added delivery and curb service early on. He said, “All employees wear masks and gloves, we eliminated food items on the steam table and we removed all plastic disposable items from the service counter area to avoid possible contamination; all service contact areas are wiped down and sanitized every 30 minutes; hands are washed frequently; hand sanitizer is provided. There has been a fluctuation in sales. With G-d’s help, we have been able to meet our financial obligations. Curb service and delivery are a small part of the business. The best-selling items are General Tso Chicken, Sesame Chicken, Chinese eggplant and string bean dishes.”
Bogartz left half the items on the menu, which are promoted through their website. “We have specials based on suppliers. We may order ribeye and get fish. Our most popular items are duck salad, salmon cakes, pecan pie and burgers. We have a ‘date night’ special: two steaks with sides, Caesar salads, wine bottle, desserts – all for $100! We may soon implement a disposable ‘sushi style write-in menu,’ once we evaluate the reopening guidelines.” Bogartz plans to begin by opening the outdoor patio, allowing just a few diners inside with condiment-free tables. He added, “We are also watching Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul’s guidelines. There are many hurdles to face. This is a very tough decision.”
Zafron was one of the first to offer free delivery (within five miles) after COVID and “no contact” curbside pickup from 4:30 to 9 p.m. seven nights a week. The full dinner menu is intact. His plans to reopen with disposable menus, social distancing using private rooms, and an every-other table arrangement. “We are bringing in 15 percent of what we need. Remember things like rent and utilities are constant. On the positive side, one night a week we plan to treat the nearby fire and police departments.”
Café Posh owner Simona Edery continues her daily chef-driven dishes based on what’s freshest. She’s using Instagram to post specials in portions for two, four or six. “It’s all been a learning experience based on supplies. Our most popular items have been fajitas, brisket with vegetables, kabobs, curry chicken, lamb kibbeh. Then brunch: red snapper tacos, shashuka, laffa, salatin, Persian rice, salads, … we have managed to keep all employees and donate to local fire departments.”
Souper Jenny: All four locations have remained open six days (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and Buckhead includes Sunday (until 3 p.m.). The menu alternates delish soups (bowl or quart), wraps, salads and dinner entrees. Next-day delivery Monday through Thursday with a $40 minimum. Dinner for 2 special sample is Chicken Alfredo with roasted vegetables for $15 plus three other dinner entrees on the delivery menu. According to Levison, “We have pivoted to do what it takes to survive. Keeping a small working team, waiting until we feel it’s safe to reopen.”
Unemployed folks can register at the Giving Kitchen website or Jenny’s Facebook page to pick up free groceries on Saturdays.
Fuego Mundo, which is also strictly kosher, has a colorful upbeat almost daily email blasts touting curbside pick up and specials. Owner Udi Hershkovitz is experiencing an 80 percent reduction in sales and retained about half of the staff. “We do offer the full menu. The only change we made is sushi after 4 p.m. (Sunday through Thursday). Our South American dishes are very popular: vegetable soup, burgers, wings, steaks, veggie pastelitios, yucca bread and quesadillas.” He is monitoring weekly as to when he feels it’s safe to reopen. “The health of our customers and employees is what’s most important.”
Bagelicious is operating out of its East Cobb location. Owner Tom Carola said, “No way I am reopening soon. I need to see more numbers [declining virus]. Currently our curbside business is tremendous.” “Tremendous” is relative, meaning that he is at 50 percent of revenues and has retained his entire staff. Carola furthers, “We still have our full menu seven days a week, starting at 6 a.m., and are selling ‘lotta’ nova, bagels, tuna, egg salad, white fish salad, sandwiches. ‘Lotta’ cream cheese too!”
From my Facebook post asking for “friends favorite pandemic-open restaurants,” hundreds of responses reinforced that dining out is indeed very dear to our hearts and sense of normalcy. Here are some of your other answers: Flower Child (often 35 percent off), Agave, Bonefish, Lazy Betty, Rumi’s Kitchen, Kale Me Crazy, Café Sababa, Willy’s, Blaze Pizza, General Muir, From the Earth Brewing Company, The Palm Restaurant, Apron+Ladle, Sushi Nami, Roasters Lenox, House of Chan, Moon India Cuisine and Flying Biscuit, just to name a few.
We are fortunate to have this cornucopia of options to maintain momentum. Someone needs to do a study in a few months to assess if first responders have put on pounds from such an outpouring of affection.