In the culinarily crazed Bay Area, opening a restaurant has been a well-orchestrated affair the past few years.
It normally starts long before the obligatory ribbon-cutting ceremony. You’ve got your advance marketing, your friends-and-family preview night, your release of the menu to the news media, your hosted meal for Instagram influencers, your soft opening — and then your official opening, by which time if you haven’t already created a sensation in the foodie world and chalked up dozens of reviews, then you may have a lot of work to do to get customers in the door.
But these aren’t normal times. What if you were planning a March or April opening and then the COVID-19 crisis hit? Why would anyone open a restaurant during a pandemic, when diners have been ordered to shelter at home?
Circumstances forced the hand of some Bay Area entrepreneurs during this tumultuous period. With jobs and dollars in jeopardy, they skipped the fanfare and started offering socially distanced takeout and delivery meals to diners who have never even stepped inside their establishments.
“We had no choice,” said chef-owner David Kinch, whose new Aptos restaurant, Mentone, with its France-and-Italy-meet-on-the-California-coast focus, was two years in the making. “We have managers on salary. We have a burn rate. How much would we lose a month?” he added, ticking off the bills restaurants incur, open or not.
So he and his team carved out safe working environments inside the well-ventilated, high-ceiling space for themselves, set up a touch-free, online payment protocol for customers and fired up the Valoriani wood-fueled oven on March 25.
From the open door, customers can get a glimpse of Kinch folding pizza boxes (“It’s keeping me sane”) and the oven, with its red-tiled homage to pizza and the Rolling Stones, which will be a focal point of the room when onsite dining is finally allowed.
There have been daily sellouts for chef Matthew Bowden’s pizzas, salads and upscale Sunday suppers, and all of the “very generous” tips from customers are going straight to their hourly employees, Kinch said.
In the South Bay, Sameer Shah and Lauren Burns had wrapped up eight months’ worth of renovations and received permits for their newest Voyager Craft Coffee location near Santa Clara University. “It hit all the check marks for us. It’s a beautiful neighborhood,” Shah said.
Then came the coronavirus shutdown. One of their shops was forced to close temporarily when San Pedro Square Market shut down, leaving them with a problem: “We offer health insurance to our employees, so we needed a source of income,” Shah said.
The solution was to open the new Santa Clara shop, but tweak the business plan. With the help of community donations, they are delivering 100 coffees and 100 pastries daily to front-line workers — an idea that keeps staffers paid at least part-time.
Both Mentone and Voyager forged ahead knowing they had brand awareness to build upon. With Mentone’s opening, the cachet of the Kinch empire — his three-Michelin-starred Manresa and The Bywater in Los Gatos, along with the Manresa Bread shops — comes to Santa Cruz County, where the chef has lived for years. And Voyager has managed to build a reputation as one of the region’s best third-wave coffeehouses in just a few short years.
Newcomers without name recognition have been scrambling to get the word out — even those that got a head start on the virus.
Thalia and Raffy Swangchaeng opened Pineapple Thai in the Main Street Cupertino complex before the lockdown, then pivoted quickly to doing takeout and delivery. Without an established clientele, they connected with the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce and joined the Cupertino Together effort to make meals for locals.
“We feel that this is important to make sure we give back to our community even though we are not making any profit with this effort,” Thalia said, plus it helps “get our restaurant on the map.”
In Fremont, the owners and operators of Mas Fuego, a chef-driven restaurant with a Baja California bent, faced the newcomer hurdle, among others — and they have come up with creative approaches.
Although the restaurant boasts a menu designed by “Top Chef” alum Erik Hopfinger, this is a brand-new concept. “We weren’t an established place that’s been around for 20 years and everyone has their favorite dish,” said operating partner Erik Reese, an industry veteran.
After an expensive build-out in the Pacific Commons area that started last fall, Mas Fuego launched in early March — only to close the 7,000-square-foot restaurant days later because of the health crisis. Besides worrying about their employees, they had no customer base to fall back on. “We’re done,” Reese remembers thinking at the time. “This isn’t going to happen right now.”
But this week, a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan will return some employees to the kitchen.
Starting Friday, Mas Fuego will once again introduce its menu (“You can make everything mas fuego, even the cocktails,” Reese said) to local customers. But this time, the cooks will be preparing dishes like their organic chicken with mole sous vide style; that method enables them to produce safely sealed, vacuum-packed meals, he said.
And on May 11, a partnership with World Central Kitchen, the global effort founded by humanitarian chef José Andrés, will begin. The Mas Fuego staff will make up to 200 meals daily for the homeless, health-care workers and front-line responders.
“It’s quite an undertaking at this point in time,” Reese said.
“We have the ability to help people, and we have some people who want to get back to work.”
Source: Thanks https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/04/29/coronavirus-why-would-anyone-open-a-restaurant-during-a-pandemic/