Northside Eateries Adjust, Give Back During COVID-19 Outbreak
As restaurants and retailers across the country and the world deal with the toll that the coronavirus is taking on their businesses, proprietors at a few northside Indy eateries have taken some creative measures to help out their staff, customers and the local community.
Since the virus prompted temporary dine-in shutdowns for Indiana restaurants in March, several establishments under the umbrella of Sahm’s Restaurant Group began offering hundreds of grocery items, in addition to carry-out food orders.
“I think it’s been kind of a tumultuous time for everyone in the restaurant industry, and everyone has had to pivot to a slightly new model to keep themselves going,” says Eddie Sahm, director of operations with Sahm’s Restaurant Group. “For us, that was turning some of our restaurants into full grocery store marketplaces with curbside service. We figured this would be helpful for guests who don’t think grocery stores are the best outlet and are trying to limit their time out each week.”
Sahm’s Restaurant Group has been selling non-food staples such as cleaning supplies and toilet paper, in addition to food items, at Sahm’s Place at 65th Street and Keystone Avenue, Half Liter BBQ in Broad Ripple, Big Lug Canteen in Nora, Sahm’s Restaurant in Fishers, and Sahm’s Ale House in Carmel’s Village of West Clay.
Sahm says his company was initially forced to lay off approximately 80% of Sahm’s Restaurant Group employees but has been able to bring back nearly half of his staff.
“We have family meals available and smaller individual meals as well for sale,” adds Sahm, who operates Sahm’s Restaurant Group alongside his father Ed. “For the marketplace, and especially the non-food stuff that we wouldn’t normally carry, the hardest part was figuring out inventories and how much money we could spend building up the right amount. We basically pivoted our entire business in about 72 hours.”
On March 22, Sahm’s also launched a Second Helpings satellite kitchen in downtown Indy, which began feeding up to 30,000 adults and children in need weekly, according to Sahm.
Wolfies Grill has also stepped up during the Coronavirus outbreak. The restaurant group partnered with Versiti Blood Center to host blood drives at its locations in Fishers, Noblesville and Indianapolis. The blood drives ran from March 21 through 22 and anyone who donated was able to receive 20% off any carryout order at Wolfies.
The American Red Cross has addressed blood shortages due to blood drive cancellations. That being said, Wolfies Grill owner Scott Wolf saw the opportunity to give back.
“It’s time for our community to step up,” Wolf says. “With so many discouraging stories lately, I wanted our family, staff and our customers to have the opportunity to be a part of something bigger and make a difference for others in our community.”
Tony Kwiatkowski, co-owner of Ale Emporium Fishers, says his eatery has been able to weather the storm of having to close to dine-in customers and even paid his entire Ale staff their full-time pay for the first two weeks of the closure — averaging his servers’ weekly tips to approximate their full-time pay amount — regardless of whether they worked hours at the restaurant.
“It was our way of thanking our staff, and we thought it was the right thing to do,” Kwiatkowski says, adding that Ale Emporium’s ability to stay open and keep most of the staff employed stems from historically strong carry-out sales. “We’re kind of a close-knit family here. We also have offered all of our employees a daily meal for them and their family since March 17, if they choose to come in and get it.”
Kwiatkowski says he’s been able to keep all of his cooks working close to 40 hours per week since mid-March, thanks to a steady stream of carry-out business.
“Most of our hosts are high school kids, and with a lot of them it’s their first job as sophomores or juniors, so a lot of those kids opted not to work during this time,” he says. “And with servers, we’ve been able to keep them on for about 70 to 75% of their normal weekly work time to help with the decent amount of carry-out business.”
Kwiatkowski and his Ale staff began offering curbside pickup almost immediately after the state closure order came down and set up cones in the Ale parking lot so customers could line up in a drive-through format.
“It took us a few days to perfect it but I think we figured it out pretty good,” Kwiatkowski says. “We’ve tried to figure out how to make it the most efficient for our guests. My hope is that the other restaurants around Indianapolis have done OK with carry-outs too since the closures.”
Kwiatkowski feels more restaurants will begin highlighting carry-out and delivery service in the long term.
“I think people will be more aware, even after this current situation is over, about hygiene and washing hands,” he adds. “I think you might see more places trying to open patios, as more people might want to dine out in an open space instead of inside. It’ll be interesting to see if there are permanent, lasting changes or trends in how restaurants operate moving forward.”
Sahm says the pandemic could have a permanent effect on both seating capacities in restaurants and the way food is priced.
“I think dining experiences will change pretty significantly, but who’s to say for how long – it could be somewhat temporary,” he says. “It could change how restaurants staff too because overhead doesn’t change even if seating capacity has to. We’ll just have to roll with it.”