Over the past few weeks the Coronavirus COVID-19 has deeply impacted the Buckhead community. What was at first a distant threat has seeped its way into our neighborhoods and forced school closures, the shuttering of non-essential businesses, and now an official shelter-in-place order for all residents of the entire state handed down by Governor Kemp. Though the official order expires on April 13, it is fair to assume that more restrictions will be forthcoming at that time as we don’t yet have a good idea of when it will actually be safe to resume our lives. (Revised 04/09/20: the order’s expiration has been extended to April 30) As a result many businesses are struggling to cope with the “new normal,” and among them some of the most affected are our local restaurants.
Buckhead’s vibrant restaurant scene has long been one of our strongest assets. With diversity of every conceivable cuisine ranging from cheesesteaks to fine dining, those who live, work, and play in Buckhead have benefited from these local establishments for their morning brew, lunches, brunches, and dinners. Many of our favorite spots have been around for decades and have survived other catastrophes such as devastating fires and the 2007-2009 recession, yet this Coronavirus poses a significant risk to their continued viability.
“Our business has been impacted in every facet,” said Fred Castellucci, president & CEO of Castellucci Hospitality Group, the organization behind concepts such as Cooks & Soldiers, Bar Mercado, Double Zero, Recess, Sugo Kitchen, and the Iberian Pig. “We are fighting every day to survive, and we are doing everything we can to take care of our people & our guests.”
It’s an unprecedented crisis for the restaurant industry. Those who kept us fed and were our homes-away-from-home – the comforting local watering hole, the family favorite, the after work gathering spot, the morning routine – have all been forced to adjust to the new restrictions put in place for our own safety. As a result, many restaurants, cafes, and bars have opted to temporarily close their doors for the indefinite future, hoping against hope for a reprieve but without any semblance of a timeline upon which to plan. An entire workforce has been furloughed indefinitely, with futures uncertain for even the most seasoned servers, bartenders, and baristas. For many staff members the financial situation is dire and even catastrophic. Many dining establishments suffer tremendously from one bad weekend, and now they’re facing an indeterminate closure. It’s not hard to imagine the struggles that are being faced behind closed doors.
The very fabric of our local restaurant scene has been shredded to its most basic parts, and we are all left wondering what to do? What can we, as consumers, do?
While many local restaurants have closed, announcing their departures on social media and their websites, sharing crowdfunding campaigns, and sending their employees home to join the ranks of 10+ million Americans who have applied for unemployment last month, there are quite a few eateries that are striving to persist and even thrive amidst the chaos.
“This pivot has been tough for us but we are continuing to stay positive and do everything we can to continue to provide for our communities safely and responsibly while keeping our employees healthy, working and paid,” Castellucci continued. “We would rather adapt and try rather than to close our doors and hope for the best.” The Iberian Pig in Buckhead for example has shifted to delivery and takeout only, limiting their menu to items that will transport well and expanding to include bottles of wine, canned beer, bottled sangria, mimosas, and “party boxes” of wine. The shift has been a hard one, logistically and emotionally; changing employees’ roles from wait staff to delivery drivers and cutting costs where possible to ensure they can continue to pay their management team. While there are obvious difficulties in this new normal, there have been some unexpected benefits.
“This event has certainly brought our team closer. As a family owned and operated business we have a tight knit group as it is, but now we have a bond that can’t be broken. It has also been incredible to witness firsthand the outpouring of support from our communities and guests. It reminds us that our passion to pursue exceptional dining experiences, one guest at a time, really matters because now, our guests, one order at a time, are keeping us alive.”
Many restaurants are not only offering to-go, delivery, and curbside pickup – an increasingly popular option with minimal contact wherein you simply pull your car up to a designated spot outside and call in to have your order brought to you, all without direct interaction – but also beginning to include takeaway alcoholic beverages as well as market services for their customers.
Restaurants Turned Markets
One such company that has pivoted in an incredible fashion is a personal favorite of mine: Bell Street Burritos. In an email they announced new features and options to help consumers during this challenging time, and shared the story of how the company got its start during the last recession.
“For those of you who don’t know, Bell Street Burritos began in a time of crisis,” the email read. “During the Recession of 2009, Matt Hinton was a Religion professor at Morehouse and Spelman Colleges, where he had taught for several years previously. When, during the recession, enrollment declined at Morehouse, Hinton was left with one fewer class to teach than usual.” Hinton then decided to supplement his income by making and delivering burritos to his friends and neighbors. At the time going by the name “West End Burritos” in honor of the community where he lived, the company grew and expanded to what is now Bell Street Burritos with three locations in Stove Works by Krog Street Market, on Peachtree just south of Piedmont Hospital, and their newest shop in Tucker.
The email went on to outline the little-known fact that in those early days Hinton was not only making burritos but also homemade pasta sauce sold by the quart. Falling back on his ability to adjust with changing times, Bell Street is now not only offering their signature burritos, tacos, quesadillas, bowls, and tamales, but also family meal kits, BBQ made by their Tucker neighbor Steven Bowe, and a variety of market items. Now when you order a meal you can also pick up beer, sodas, juices, eggs, fruit, vegetables, and even toilet paper, vinyl gloves, and bleach! At a time when consumers are increasingly hesitant to frequent the local grocery store, this has provided an incredible opportunity to help his community in novel ways.
Another Buckhead favorite taking great strides to not only stay afloat but also give back to the community is Henri’s Bakery, offering a 50% match for sack lunches bought as a gift to local hospitals, fire stations, police departments, and testing facilities throughout the city.
“In times of need, it is important that we all band together! Henri’s has created deep roots in our wonderful city for over 90 years, and we know firsthand how important it is to have a strong community like Atlanta who supports each other with love and kindness during times of crisis. Now is the time for our tight-knit community to come together and thank our first responders for all they are doing to keep us safe,” said 4th generation owner Anthony DiNardo in a statement on the Henri’s website.
As our community continues to adjust to these new circumstances many of us are growing tired of cooking every meal at home and missing our favorite local eateries. That’s where we can help: we have compiled a list of restaurants that are continuing to offer curbside, delivery, and takeout options, some even with discounts and special deals! So if you’d like a break from cooking and want to help keep your local favorites afloat, check out these options to order and enjoy in the comfort and safety of your homes.