Interview provided by Marianne Schleicher, Hospitality Practice Leader
Dealing with COVID on Opposite Coasts
More Similarities than Differences.
We had the good fortune to facilitate a discussion between an East and West coast restaurant client and learned that there are a lot more similarities with the challenges they face during the pandemic than we would have expected.
While the two differ in vibe and style of food, we were immediately struck by how similar their philosophies are in how they view their guests, their employees, and their communities. We were very curious to see the similarities and differences impacting these restauranteurs during COVID-19, how they were coping, what new challenges they face, and how they are reinventing themselves during this time.
Pivot to To-Go, Negotiate With Landlords and Develop New Safety Protocols
Pre-COVID, the owners of Jack’s were happy with the company’s trajectory. Jack’s employed over 400 teammates, and there were plans to open a fifth location in 2020. Naturally, everything came to a screeching halt in March. They immediately pivoted from a dine-in experience to 100% To Go and Delivery orders. Prior to COVID, 8% of their receipts were from To Go orders, and the owners knew that sales would be drastically impacted by the restaurant closures.
John advised that the brothers were reluctant to reopen immediately once Governor Newsom allowed indoor dining to resume. They were concerned that having to reconfigure the inside would not generate the same sales as before. They were also concerned about the safety component of operating both inside and outside. During this time, they corresponded with their landlords to determine how much outdoor dining could be achieved at their locations. When Governor Newsom once again closed indoor dining, it was a “body blow” to the brothers.
However, they were buoyed by the willingness of some of their landlords to help them create attractive outdoor dining space as well as receipt of the PPP loan. Currently there are 25 tables outside in the plaza in Pleasant Hill, and the tables are constantly full serving guests. They also added outdoor space in Newark and are currently looking at tenting parking lot space in San Bruno.
John believes that the landlords and the cities who are willing to work with restaurant owners to come up with a creative way to dine outdoors will go a long way to help restaurants survive, reinvent and re-emerge.
Focus on Customer Has Created Loyal Following
Shifting to Plan-Do-See, Mahmood said that prior to COVID, the Plan-Do-See operations were great. They were beating budgets, and Q1 was shaping up to shatter expectations. Immediately when COVID hit, PDS saw their business tank as the hotel occupancies dropped to nothing. Since they catered to hotel guests, they were at the mercy of hotel traffic. The New York locations shut down as New York became the epicenter of COVID. In Washington D.C., the partners decided to shut down all operations. The Miami locations were also forced to shut down. These thriving establishments were crushed from all the closures.
Their standalone restaurant in New York remained open for takeout and delivery. A permit has been received for four outdoor tables. Mahmood has been pleasantly surprised by the loyal following of customers still patronizing the restaurant. Fortunately, August 1, 2020 saw the reopening of the DC hotel and restaurant with 50% occupancy allowed indoors, with outdoor seating as well. Mahmood embarked on a guerilla marketing campaign to bring the word to hotel and restaurant guests as soon as possible.
The Miami locations have been a roller coaster ride. After reopening, the first weeks brought a doubling of their forecasted sales every single day. However, once the COVID spikes hit the area, they had to once again close indoor dining. Revenue again went down. We asked how he manages his staffing if he doesn’t know the demand. Mahmood mentioned that they keep the popular menu items but reduce the overall number of items.
Post COVID – Changes to Restaurant Design, City Planning to Be Center Stage
Both John and Mahmood have had to shift on the fly to determine how to keep their businesses afloat during COVID, and decide what they will do in the future to reinvent themselves. Both men agree that the design of their restaurants will be impacted. They both believe that restaurants will move toward a European outdoor dining experience over the long run. They have both had to be creative in how they approach the future and are striving to transform open spaces. Perhaps there will be changes in city planning that will benefit our new normal of dining.
We asked them how they keep their heads on straight with locations in different cities. They must stay on top of all the different city, state and federal laws with varying closures, re-openings, labor laws, etc. John says it has been a grind as it is tough when government can’t make up their minds. His employees pay the price by being furloughed, rehired, and furloughed again.
Both men agree their focus is to make it to 2021
They are concerned that the winter will be tough as the virus thrives in cold weather. Preparation is the name of the game for both of them. They continue to look for ways to reinvent, survive and reemerge on the other side of COVID.
In the Toughest of Times, Both Exhibit a Spirit of Giving and Exemplify The Essence of Community
What was so uplifting to us is the concern that both men have for the many who are less fortunate than they have been. John has spent time going to different crisis centers and food banks to drop off food. Recently, he delivered 50 hot lunches to the staff of the Samaritan House who spend their days feeding those in need. Jack’s has provided lunch and dinner to the homeless in hotels. They put together meals for 130 people twice a day. Mahmood advises that they partner with the World Central Kitchen in Washington D.C. He also helps nonprofits in school districts to help feed the hungry when schools are closed. Both men feel greatly rewarded when they see the appreciation on people’s faces.
So, while the vibe and menus are different, the challenges faced by both organizations, their resilience, creativity, and concern for their fellow man is exactly the same.
EPIC Is Proud to Support These Incredible Businesses
As we slowly reopen, EPIC is dedicated to supporting our clients by frequenting their restaurants. We are encouraging all of our 3,200 employees across the United States to do the same. These businesses deserve to survive and emerge in a better place, and we want to do our part to help. Please drop in to these establishments for a lovely outside dining experience now, and return again over and over. You’ll be helping two very deserving organizations, and you’ll be rewarded with a great dining experience.
For more of our coronavirus coverage, visit epicbrokers.com/coronavirus
Meet Our Clients
East Coast: Plan-Do-See America
Mahmood Abousalem, Regional Director of Plan-Do-See America, runs the East Coast operations of a global hospitality brand founded on the Japanese principal of Omotenashi – selfless service with a spirit of warmth and respect. Mahmood manages the Food & Beverage in their hotel operations.
The Eaton Hotel in Washington D.C. boasts the home of Kintsugi, Wild Days, Allegory and American Son. The Stanton Hotel, Miami Beach, is home to Lolo’s Surf Cantina and Azabu Miami Beach. Azabu New York is the one stand-alone restaurant operated by Plan-Do-See. The company’s vision is to create hotels and restaurants around the world that offer memorable experiences while building a lasting, positive relationship together with their guests, partners, team members and communities.
West Coast: Jack’s Restaurant & Lounge
John Marcovici together with his two brothers own Jack’s Restaurant & Bar started their business in 2010 with one 8,000 square foot restaurant in Pleasant Hill, California. By 2017, they expanded to three additional Bay Area restaurants– all with a similar footprint. Their philosophy is to treat every customer as if they were a guest in their home, creating a warm and welcoming family first restaurant experience. Their varied menu assures that their guests will always find choices to ensure a great meal and a great time. Jack’s supports charitable organizations and schools in the communities they serve.
EPIC Hospitality Team
Successfully managing risk by identifying and controlling potential sources of loss is the most effective strategy to protect and grow your business and to reduce insurance costs. As your advocate and partner in this process, our experienced team of hospitality industry specialists will identify the risks you face and recommend strategies to minimize, mitigate or eliminate them.