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While the ongoing pandemic has wreaked havoc on the restaurant industry, it hasn’t stopped the ingenuity of independent restaurants nationwide. Many are finding new ways to offer the familiar favorites and comfort food their loyal customers are seeking more than ever.
“It’s uplifting to see how many neighborhood restaurants have adapted to better serve their customers during these unprecedented times,” said Alyca Judge, senior marketing manager at General Mills Foodservice, which hosts the annual Neighborhood to Nation Recipe Contest that celebrates local restaurants.
“The impact of COVID-19 on our beloved restaurants only underscores the special role they play in the hearts of their customers and our communities.”
Local restaurants are carefully and creatively strategizing ways to keep their communities well-fed and taken care of. Here are what some local favorites are doing.
Switching up menus to reflect changing tastes
Anne Klingler, who owns Outlanders in Marquette, Mich., switched up her menu to add an entirely new service model to accommodate how consumers are eating now. The restaurant, known for its homestyle cooking and “family meals made simple,” created a drive-thru barbecue, offering burgers, hot dogs and barbecue pork and sides like grilled zucchini, cheesy penne, cole slaw and more. Customers can either pick food up and bring it home, never leaving their cars, or they can dine in an outdoor area with picnic tables and umbrellas.
In addition, Klingler is launching a late-night delivery service in August that will focus on snacks and more indulgent foods like tacos, nachos, cookies, brownies and popcorn.
“With all of our offsite catering and summer festivals cancelled, we are facing a big loss in revenue so wanted to try something new,” said Klingler. “Plus, who hasn’t wished someone would deliver caramel corn or nachos to their door at midnight?”
While Suzanne Raiford of Daisy’s Lunchbox Cafe and Bakery in Searcy, Ark., didn’t make big changes to her menu, she did use a portion of the restaurant’s PPP loan to stock an assortment of essentials customers were seeking at the onset of the pandemic. For a short time, the restaurant had a pop-up shop stocked with toilet paper, hand sanitizer and spray, baking supplies and face masks. Even today, Raiford said she is carrying masks, which are still in demand.
Taking care of the regulars
When Shar’els Cafe in Oakdale, Minn., first learned that restaurants throughout the state would need to close indoor dining rooms, the restaurant quickly stocked up on to-go packages and later converted a parking lot to an outdoor dining space.
Myles Buersken, whose parents have run the restaurant—known for its robust breakfast menu and homestyle cooking—for 25 years, says they are grateful they never had to close their doors completely and credits the cafe’s customers and local community for their overwhelming support.
“We were determined to do our best and find ways to continue to serve our loyal customers,” said Buersken, who added that the restaurant has a number of customers who come in every day and some who come for both breakfast and lunch. “It has been touching to see some of our customers show up with tears in their eyes and eager to support us. We are proud to continue to serve them the food they love.”
Family meal kits
When the pandemic hit, Brooke May, owner of La Luncheonette Craft Food in Belton, Texas, launched family-style portions and meal kits at her restaurant, beloved for its Mexican craft food and Mediterranean-inspired dishes. The kits, serving two to four people, include everything from brunch items to enchiladas, tacos, quesadillas or taquitos.
May often posts Facebook videos to promote select menu items on specific days, such as Taco Tuesday, Way-Back Wednesday and Taquito Thursday, which also happens to be kids’ day—kids get a free meal with purchase of an entree.
“During these chaotic times, I think we are all craving a bit of routine,” said May. “Doing the family meals and having ‘day of the week’ specials has been well received as customers know what to expect on these days and it helps our staff keep their sanity, too.”
For information on this year’s Neighborhood to Nation Recipe Contest with $100,000 up for grabs for local restaurants, please visit www.NeighborhoodtoNation.com.