Already a cut-throat industry, restaurants are learning to evolve amidst the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Sam and Louie’s Italian Restaurant and Red Beard BBQ are two local establishments that are adjusting to the new territory by selling meal kits that can be prepared from home.
For Sam and Louie’s owner Toby Shaughnessy, the last two weeks have been a 180-degree turn from the start of the year.
“We were booming,” Shaughnessy said. “January and February were a little bit slower than last year, but toward the middle of February and the beginning of March we started to do really well. I couldn’t hire enough people.”
But on March 20, Sam and Louie’s shut down for the day to re-evaluate how to construct business going forward. The next day, the restaurant announced it would be switching to carry-out, curbside to-go, and delivery.
“When the pandemic started to spread more here in the U.S. is when we noticed a huge drop-off. Our sales went down to almost nothing in two days,” Shaughnessy said. “Going by the percentage of our sales, we went to probably 10% to 15% of what we were doing.”
With business dwindling, Shaughnessy needed to get innovative. On Thursday, Sam and Louie’s announced their new $25 pizza kit. The kit includes dough, pizza sauce, choice of two toppings and cheese. Each kit is enough to make four personal pizzas.
“We have sold quite a few already, like 10 or 12, which to me is a good amount,” Shaughnessy said. “Hopefully we can keep it going. We are learning how to adjust. We have been leaning heavily on our pizzas because they are low-cost.”
The loss of revenue has not been the only thorn in Shaugnessy’s side. He’s also suffering from a loss of manpower. Shaughnessy said some of his employees have ventured out to designated “hot zones” and have been forced to self-quarantine upon their return to Iola as a safety measure.
Shaughnessy admits he has furloughed some employees, but is doing everything to keep staff members on board. For example, former severs earning $2.13 an hour are now serving as car hops making $7.25 an hour.
Shaughnessy said he’s leaning on previous experience with the delivery business.
“I used to run a Papa Johns when I was in college. So now, I’m going to lean on the delivery side of pizza, and hope it sees us through.”
RED BEARD Barbecue is in somewhat familiar territory in that it’s never relied on a dining facility. The popular food truck operates out of the Southeast Kansas Stockyard.
Beginning on March 16, co-owner Austin Honaker imposed a self-quarantine for two weeks, re-opening on Monday. Honaker used the hiatus to re-evaluate Red Beard’s business plan.
“Now I have to go through a distributor down here for my food, opposed to Kansas City, so the food costs have gone way up. But we are OK, we will be fine,” he said.
During that two-week break, Honaker constructed a website to sell meal kits, enabling customers to stay safe — and satisfied — by ordering from www.redbeardbarbecue.com.
“I got that idea from other chefs. They are doing that to pay their employees, but we don’t have employees. I don’t need to keep paying myself when I know others that are struggling.”
The prices of the meal kits are not particularly cheap. For example, the Wyatt Earp sandwich kit is $60, but the kit is enough for eight sandwiches.
With the money from the meal kits, Red Beard will feed those who are lending a helping hand. Last Monday and Thursday, Honaker fed 10 staff members making meals for students at USD 247.
Also, Red Beard will help feed those with the Allen County Sheriff’s Department who are taking over the Meals on Wheels program. On Friday, Honaker will donate a couple dozen N-95 masks and feed some of Allen County Regional Hospital’s workers.
“I think if we opened right now, we’d be killing it, because we would be on a level playing field with all the other restaurants,” Honaker said. “But we’d be risking our health and everybody else’s. And for the businesses that are struggling, we would be taking money from them, too. Hiram has been here for 10 years and I have been here almost two. We’ve been welcome with open arms, which makes me want to give back.”