Even before the city ordered the shutdown of all restaurants in Los Angeles on Sunday night, Chad Colby had a game plan.
In recent days, as fears about novel coronavirus swept through the country, the chef-owner of Antico had started experimenting with takeout at his Larchmont restaurant. He bought cartons and began selling his coveted house-made ice cream by the pint, and researched delivery apps to see which had the lowest fees. He’s contemplating creating cook-at-home dinner kits for families of four.
“We’re going to try every possible way that we can to — at this point, not make money, at this point just to keep this business going,” Colby said of his 9-month-old restaurant. “Any income that we try to do right now isn’t even necessarily to break even, it’s to sustain the losses that are going to be coming.”
With a strict mandate to close bars and restaurants (excluding takeout and delivery) until at least the end of March, the months ahead will test the resilience of chefs in unprecedented ways. Those who are able to pivot quickly and creatively will have the best chance of survival.
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” said Adam Weisblatt, owner of restaurant consulting company Last Word Hospitality and co-owner of Found Oyster in East Hollywood and Same Same in Silver Lake. “You have a creative industry facing a very unique challenge. And that is spurring a lot of people to come up with ideas and approaches that they would never otherwise consider.”
I crunched numbers a zillion ways. With my personal savings, I will pay our team as long as I can or as long as it takes for us to creatively turn this ship around.
Minh Phan, chef-owner of Porridge + Puffs
Chefs are used to stressful situations: long hours, razor-thin margins and the changing whims of the dining public. In the last few days, they’ve rallied: heavily pushing delivery and takeout as an obvious first step but also encouraging people to buy gift cards and branded merchandise, developing meal kits, boxing up unused inventory for sale, offering to cook in people’s homes and flipping restaurant spaces to become retail shops.
“In an attempt to be responsible and proactive, we are offering new delivery packages of heat-and-serve dishes starting Friday,” chef Josef Centeno, whose restaurants include Bäco Mercat and Amacita, said on Instagram on Thursday.
“The grocery stores are empty so we’re packaging our pastas and bread to take home,” M. Georgina, the new downtown L.A. restaurant by chef Melissa Perello, said in its own post along with pricing for dried mafaldine, spaghetti, casarecce and a house levain loaf.
Clark Street Bread set up an e-commerce section of its website on Monday to sell sweatshirts, T-shirts and gift cards — “other ways to help your small local businesses.”
Given just four hours’ advance notice of the impending shutdown, restaurant owners now find themselves with a surplus of inventory. At All Day Baby, which recently opened in Silver Lake, managing partner Lien Ta spent Monday organizing a “bodega” inside the restaurant to sell off unused product; the one-day fire sale is scheduled for Tuesday and includes smoked meats, flats of eggs, sauces, biscuits and shishito peppers.
Things continue to change rapidly — on Monday, Los Angeles County followed the city’s lead by ordering the temporary closure of all restaurants and bars — and chefs are having to reevaluate and adjust constantly.
Last week Kismet began making its regular menu available for takeout along with containers of chicken broth and house-made labneh. By Monday afternoon, the Los Feliz restaurant announced it would temporarily close. Its sister casual restaurant, Kismet Rotisserie, will remain open for takeout and delivery, and will start selling produce boxes for $40 on Wednesday.
Meanwhile Minh Phan decided to completely transition Porridge + Puffs, her Historic Filipinotown restaurant, into a “collaborative provision shop” that is set to open on Thursday. Customers will be able to pick up items from the store or have them delivered; an online store is also in the works. Products will include most of Porridge + Puffs’ menu, as well as packaged foods and self-care products.
“I cried a lot today,” Phan said in an email on Sunday night. “I crunched numbers a zillion ways. With my personal savings, I will pay our team as long as I can or as long as it takes for us to creatively turn this ship around.”
Some chefs worry that those efforts still won’t be enough to offset the lost revenue from temporarily shutting down their dining rooms.
“A lot of restaurants aren’t financially prepared for this: We’re prepared to work harder, we’re prepared to get through hard times, but we’re not prepared for nothing,” said Genevieve Gergis, co-owner of Bestia and Bavel. The two perpetually packed downtown restaurants “haven’t made profits for a week.”
“We’re scrambling with numbers to see how far we can stretch it for everybody,” she said. “All our overhead is a huge expense. Across both restaurants we serve 1,000 people a day. Our health insurance is $50,000 per month for our employees. That’s for real. And we also have our rent.
“There’s no creative adjustment with this; there’s no creative challenge,” Gergis added. “It’s just unknown and scary.”
Times staff writers Genevieve Ko and Ben Mims contributed to this report.
Source: Thanks https://www.latimes.com/food/story/2020-03-16/chef-creativity-restaurant-shutdown