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Restaurants are turning to alternative solutions-including grocery and bodega formats-to reach customers and stay afloat during coronavirus.

Restaurants pivot to groceries and meal kits to save business during the COVID-19 pandemic

As dining rooms empty, restaurants, like Founding Farmers, set up markets to feed consumers

Restaurants across the country have had to shutter dine-in areas due to local and state-wide restrictions to prevent spread of the coronavirus. Many operators have turned their focus to traditional off-premise, but, some independent and chain restaurants have pivoted to selling groceries to keep afloat.

Washington, D.C.-based Farmers Restaurant Group laid off 1,000 people this week, keeping only management and chefs who then had their salaries reduced by 70%. Dan Simons, co-owner, choose to remake his restaurants — including Founding Farmers, Farmers & Distillers and Farmers Fishers Bakers — into markets working with his remaining staff.

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“There’s a reason people cook at home; it’s less expensive,” said Simons, which is why Farmers Market + Grocery, the newly named bodega concept, won’t charge typical dine-in prices.

The corner market or bodega will be set up within the restaurant in the next 24-48 hours and sell meal kits cooked by the remaining restaurant staff along with packaged chicken salad, toilet paper, paper towels, wine, beer (in growlers) and other essentials.

The restaurant’s bakery will remain open to produce bread as well.

Customers will pull up to the restaurant, place an order either in person or online and a staff member will bring out the order.

“The supply chain for restaurants is different than grocery stores. The demand is so huge [for grocery stores] and I can also get a huge box of toilet paper but what I don’t have is toilet paper wrapped in plastic. I buy eggs in cases of 144 and I’ll have to put them into something smaller,” said Simons.

The Farmers Market + Grocery will package the goods for consumers. Sure, products will look a bit different than what’s for sale at a grocery, but Simons is betting when supplies are low, consumers won’t care what they look like.

Simons and his team at Farmers are trying to hack their current technology to make orders for the market work.

By using the restaurants existing OpenTable reservation system, Simons believes they can organize pick up times for customers (who get their goods via curbside pickup) and schedule shifts for the remaining management team running the bodega.

Restaurant operators have had to adjust to changing times at unprecedented pace. Earlier this week, Tock, the reservation platform, pivoted to delivery at the request of Seattle restaurant/client Canlis. The technology to do it was developed in six days.

Similarly, Simons’ idea for a bodega, from inception to reality, happened in 72 hours. In a normal world, something like that would take about six months for a restaurant to plan and execute, at the very least.

Larger chains are picking up on this movement as well, showing it can be done at scale.

Dog Haus, the Los Angeles-based gourmet hot dog chain with about 45 units, has begun to offer grocery-like services at some locations, which have become Dog Haus Markets.

KU_Haus-Market[2].jpgHot dogs, burgers, sausages, King’s Hawaiian rolls, left, and tater tots are all for sale at the restaurant-turned-market.

All items are ingredients in the chain’s recipes and from the same supply chain, so customers can recreate their own Dog Haus gourmet hot dogs at home.

Customers can order ahead and see which items are available at specific locations. Items will be restocked twice a week as each unit runs out.

Dog Haus Market's prepared food are only available for takeout and pickup initially, but the chain has begun tests for delivery with ghost kitchen-operator Kitchen United in Pasedena, Calif.

Chef/Owner Cathy Pavlos began to turn her restaurant, Provenance Restaurant in Newport Beach, Calif. into a meal kit service when the state banned dine-in service.

Offering two different options, “Take-and-bake meals” with minimum cooking in portions of 6-9 and meal kits in individual portions with a minimum order of four, Pavlos is hoping to stay afloat while offering customers home-cooked food.

“We opted for this over a delivery service because we cannot guarantee the quality of the meal that way, but we can guarantee the quality of these meals as they leave our hands with no problem,” said Pavlos.

The meals include cooking instructions.

“Fresh food is the most comforting,” said Pavlos.

Prices for the meal kits range from $10 a person for the hamburger kits to $17 a person for the short ribs. The meal kits use the same high-quality ingredients typically used at Provenance Restaurant including kobe beef.

Pick up is done inside the restaurant at specified reservation times. If there is a wait, customers can sit at tables spaced six-feet apart until curbside pickup begins.

Contact Holly at [email protected]

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