About a month ago, Anthony Strong finally opened a dining room for family-style meals in his San Francisco restaurant, Prairie. He saved up for renovations and shuttered the restaurant for four days to complete construction and was excited to unveil it to customers.”It was going to be amazin” He said, and it was amazing, for an entire week.”Soon after Strong opened the new space, San Francisco started enacting social distancing practices in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Restaurants were ordered to restrict their operations. Strong knew that his new concept — sharing meals with strangers — wouldn’t work.
So he decided to start selling the food and ingredients he buys in bulk to individual customers, essentially transforming his restaurant into an independent grocery store. The idea was a hit.
“We’re blowing through product,” he said. “It’s been amazing to see people from the neighborhood that we knew as diners coming in,” he added. “They used to geek out on dishes off of our charcoal grills, and now they’re geeking out on the fact that we have the only stocked pasta shelves in the city.”Strong is not the only restaurateur who has started selling grocery ingredients to customers.Across the country, cafes and restaurants are scrambling to keep their businesses afloat. Restaurants that relied on dine-in customers are rapidly coming up with ways to hold onto customers who are no longer allowed into dining rooms. Delivery is one option, but it’s expensive — businesses that use third-party services like Grubhub generally have to pay them a fee, which could eat into margins that are already razor thin.
Selling groceries is a way to avoid that problem. They sell items they already sell, in a different form. Opening up temporary grocery stores helps bump up the number of supermarkets in the country, which could ease crowding or delivery bottlenecks. It’s also a way to try to support struggling suppliers.
Many restaurants had to lean into delivery during this time. But for Strong, avoiding delivery was important. He didn’t want to be beholden to thosethird-party services. For him and others, delivery was never a good option.