Restaurants have been impacted as much as almost any industry by Covid-19, and the ones that are still open locally struggle to adapt. Many area restaurants have simply closed their doors — some for good — while others are closed “just until the pandemic passes.”
Most restaurants that are still open are offering delivery of meals and take-out — if they weren’t already doing so.
Before government-ordered restaurant dine-ins closed, most restaurants invested considerable time, energy and money in sanitizing their restaurants — implementing processes and procedures to keep them as clean and germ-free as possible, cleaner than before COVID-19. So, that is the good news. Most restaurants that continue to operate are clean, really clean.
With their dining rooms closed, many local restaurants will not make it through this pandemic if we don’t support them.
Smokejack BBQ, which serves “Southern comfort food with an emphasis on Bar-BQ” has been in downtown Alpharetta since 2004. When the crisis hit, owner Dave Filipowicz launched a broad “counterattack” on the virus.
“In just a couple days, we completely updated our menu to help us adapt to what we anticipated was coming with COVID–19,” he said.
At the same time, Filipowicz launched into overdrive with extraordinary measures to address the virus in public places.
“We started with an intensive deep cleaning of the entire restaurant — a ‘sanitize cleaning’ — that kept almost the entire staff working after hours into the wee hours of the morning. It was a team effort and everyone understood that if we don’t have the public confidence in our physical space, in the cleanliness of that space, nothing else matters,” he said.
Filipowicz has waived cancellation fees for catering events for his customers and posts a continuous stream of updates on his website and via his internal email database.
“We are constantly monitoring the situation and keeping our staff as well as our customers informed. Communication is critical,” he said. “We’re selling gift cards to make it more convenient for our customers, and we are also working as closely as we can with our school partners to help address food issues of children who no longer have access to subsidized school meals,” he said.
Filipowicz has ramped up curb-side pickup and is rapidly moving toward online ordering.
“We did over 120 pick-up orders last Thursday,” he said.
The special meal that drove most of those 120 pick-up orders? It was Daves “Special Jack Pack Meal” for a family of four: a pound of pulled pork, a pound of pulled chicken, a quart of mac n’ cheese, a pint of coleslaw, a pint of sweet potatoes, and four slices of Texas toast — for $40.
BurgerFi’s, owned by Ron and Terrie Altman, has been one of the most successful premium quality hormone-free Angus beef burger restaurants in Alpharetta. They have dealt with the current crisis in similar ways as Filipowicz. However, the Altmans’ restaurant had a number of marketing and process strengths already in place that are helping them deal with the crisis.
Ron and Terrie’s overall business early in the crisis was down 50-75 percent before all restaurant dining rooms were ordered closed. They had lost much of their lunch business because it was dependent upon nearby office workers and business travelers.
Ron, who worked extensively in the food business on the supply side (Kraft and Con-Agra) before opening BurgerFi, makes the safety of his customers, his staff, and the community the top company priority.
Before dining room closures, Ron said they expanded every aspect of the sanitizing processes in every way possible.
“We increased the frequency of sanitizing all equipment, furniture, fixtures and all other human contact points,” he said. “All employees now wear and frequently refresh their disposable gloves and were — and are — following best practices for food handling. We also started encouraging cashless transactions in-store and pre-ordering online through the BurgerFi.com website to minimize human interaction at the point of contact.”
The good news, according to Ron, is that his restaurant is already set up with a powerful back-end system for online ordering and payment, delivery to the home or office, and curbside pick-up via the BurgerFi app and the BurgerFi.com website. They are currently offering special incentives for delivered orders as well as discounts for medical and first responders.
Ron and Terrie give back. They did before COVID-19, and plan to keep giving.
Each year, their team selects local outreach organizations and sets a monetary goal to achieve and give to the charity. Their stance during this crisis has not changed their commitment to the community they serve.
“Our hearts break for everyone who has been so severely impacted by this crisis, especially the kids out of school who depend on school meals for nourishment,” Ron said. “Know that we will gladly take care of any kid in that situation. In fact, no hungry person who can’t pay, will be turned away hungry.”
Near the end of the interview for this article, Ron and Terrie shared that, even though they are struggling, they have decided to give a large amount of money now — well into five figures — out of their savings to local charities: North Fulton Community Charities, Drake House, No Longer Bound and others.
“I struggled with trying to figure out how to tie our giving to a percentage of business that we do during this crisis,” Ron said, “but in the end, Terrie and I decided that we just need to help other people who need help, now. We have a deep faith and believe that the more you give the more you get, and we have tasked ourselves to walk that walk.”
Just before submitting this article, my phone rang. It was Ron trying and failing to tell me something. His lungs didn’t seem to be able to provide enough air for him.
“A man — a friend — just called in and asked if he could buy 20 $50 meal cards from us to help us a little bit through this crisis.”
Neither of us were able to talk. Then through the silence, I heard not more than a whisper — “we are blessed.”
I encourage everyone to be the blessing you would hope to see from others. BurgerFi’s Burgers, their custard, their Dogs and Fries are as delicious, healthy and enjoyable. And it comes with an extra bonus — a blessing. Buy some meals from them, please.