New Restaurants Opening in the Midst of a Pandemic

Can you imagine obtaining a business loan, signing a lease, building out a space for several months to a year, and then, just as you’re getting ready to open your restaurant doors for the first time, coming face-to-face with the current pandemic and business climate? It’s hard enough to imagine how those restaurants, with decades of experience under their belt, are surviving, but a new business just starting out is almost unimaginable. And, yet, that is exactly what some in the industry have faced.

For many, remaining closed or postponing opening is simply not an option. Bills still need to be paid and funds are often tight. Dear Diary Coffeehouse in Austin chose to open for business on April 4, almost three weeks after the city ordinance ordered the closure of dine-in service in restaurants.

The bottom line for many in this position: Doing some business is better than doing no business.

Restaurants with Reputations

Mentone, a new restaurant that opened its doors on March 25 in Aptos, a town in Santa Cruz County, California, went straight to the point when chef-owner David Kinch told Mercury News, “We had no choice. We have managers on salary. We have a burn rate. How much would we lose a month?”

Their efforts have paid off, reporting daily sellouts of pizzas, salad, and upscale Sunday suppers. It helps, of course, to have brand awareness and a solid reputation on your side. Kinch’s other restaurants include the three-Michelin-starred farm-to-table Manresa, and the Manresa Bread shops.

It also helps to have a food critic write up a review in The Washington Post with a “Wow!” reaction. Such was the case when Bammy’s, a Washington DC Caribbean-style restaurant, brought to you by chefs from Michelin-starred Maydan, opened their doors at the end of May. Chef-owners Gerald Addison and Chris Morgan started with online takeout orders at the end of May, and are currently limited to 44 seats in the outdoor bar.

The Very First Restaurant—the Hard Way

For those that are opening their very first restaurant, the journey is made more difficult.

Vector Brewing, in Dallas, opened for to-go orders in April, before dine-in restrictions were lifted in June. With the current rise in COVID-19 in their state, it’s difficult for them to say what the future holds, let alone make plans for special events. Owner Craig Bradley told NBC 5 that business has been very strong so far, but, “When your business model is changing week to week it’s very tough.”

This family-owned brewery and taproom is quick to point out that they are not a chain. The welcoming page on their website says it all: “Vector Brewing isn’t a chain—this is the only one, and we’re so happy to finally be open.”

Now, consider this: You buy a restaurant, aim for a grand opening day of March 17, and then find a stay-at-home order in place the following day. Such was the fate of Hank and Hazel’s, the “Really Good Sausages” spot in Vacaville, California that is still running on to-go orders and limited patio seating. Sarah Harper, the owner, reported to ABC 10 that, despite the shutdown, they decided to proceed and have used social media to share the day’s menu. The good news? They’ve been selling out every day.

Mas Fuego, a 7,000-square-foot Mexican restaurant that opened in early March in Fremont, California, found grace in the form of the federal Paycheck Protection Program and, in May, partnered with World Central Kitchen. They are now making 200 meals a day for front-line responders, health care workers, and the homeless.

For those of you that haven’t heard of this tremendous non-profit, World Central Kitchen (WCK) started ten years ago by Chef José Andrés and his wife, Patricia. Looking to provide solutions to hunger and poverty, they never dreamed of the impact WCK would one day have. In addition to their other programs such as Plow to Plate and Clean Cooking, they’ve partnered with 2,300 restaurants that provide nourishing meals to vulnerable families while supporting local economies. WCK has currently paid over $60 million to small, independent restaurants.

Letting the Public Know

There are no grand openings happening in our present world, and even soft openings are a mere whisper. Without the hosted meals, presentations, and special evenings for family, friends, and influencers, how does a new restaurant, that may just be open for delivery and takeout, let potential customers know that they have opened their doors?

Right now, finding your potential guests is a clear path as many are still spending much of their time at home, on computers, tablets, and in front of TVs. Use your social and digital media outreach to let your local customers know what you’re offering that they can’t do without. There is a small glimmer of hope laced throughout the tale of these openings—some are not only opening but also succeeding.

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