Externally, Grumpy’s used the pandemic as an opportunity to strengthen its bond with the community, which is part of the diner’s DNA, DeLeon says.
This included produce drives and a campaign in which customers could purchase a breakfast for first responders, emergency workers, or anyone in need. The restaurant has delivered more than 700 meals to hospitals, police departments, fire departments, and even Winn-Dixie.
“We did the grocery workers, and they loved it,” DeLeon says. “They’re silent heroes where they’re working hard and stocking the shelves. We brought them food, and they were ecstatic.”
Despite the pandemic, Grumpy’s, which was founded in 1999 by a U.S. Navy cook known as Chef Grumpy, still plans to expand for the first time in its history later this year.
The brand launched a franchise program last year. DeLeon, who has experience as a multi-unit franchisee for multiple foodservice brands and as a franchisor for Restaurant Brands International, says franchising gives Grumpy’s the opportunity to quickly scale into other communities.
The brand currently has two developments in progress in St. Johns and Middleburg, Florida, and is eyeing Amelia Island and New Smyrna Beach, Florida, for expansion—areas that DeLeon says could comfortably hold two Grumpy’s locations each.
He says Grumpy’s hasn’t marketed franchising amid the pandemic, but there’s still been a high level of intrigue in the brand from potential franchisees.
“The interest is there,” DeLeon says. “People want traditional Americana. People love our brand. It’s something you connect with and really, it’s where you want to be during anything like this. … People want that nostalgia. They want to go to a place where they feel comfortable at and know the employees and servers.”
Looking toward the rest of the summer, Florida remains a hotbed for COVID-19 cases. The Sunshine State saw a record 9,585 new cases on Saturday and 8,530 more on Sunday. On June 1, there were 667 new daily cases.
DeLeon says there is a level of concern, but he is confident that Grumpy’s has instituted sufficient and effective sanitary measures. The restaurant has nine hand sanitizing stations and all employees are required to wear masks and gloves. Also, both workers and vendors must undergo a temperature and wellness check prior to entering, and all door handles and high-touch surfaces are placed in anti-microbial wrap to minimize spread of germs.
To him, restaurants are probably the safest place to be with the heightened sanitation and social distancing requirements.
“I feel safer at the restaurant than I do at the grocery store. At the grocery store, you have people touching things,” DeLeon says. “… Every restaurant I’ve been to has been on it. And I give them credit, because they’re not always on it with the food or service, but they’ve been on it with the sanitation.”