Food Halls: Food halls are uniquely qualified to transform themselves into full-service ad hoc grocery stores. Their sheer size and existing retail licenses are their strength. Food halls are big enough to provide shoppers with the opportunity to socially distance, and they have experience in and know-how to re-package, label and sell at retail in the safest manner possible.
Chef Frank Bonanno, proprietor/CEO of Bonanno Concepts in Denver, is transforming his Milk Market Food Hall into a full-time grocery store with prepared foods, frozen foods, a butcher counter and a fish market.
“The easy part is converting into a grocery store; the hardest thing right now is guaranteeing pay and taking care of our employees. We’re trying to do whatever we can to pay people. We’ve even implemented a voluntary employment model where we don’t schedule people, we just offer work to our employees and whomever wants to service our customers, just shows up. This is important for our staff and for servicing our community. This isn’t about making money anymore for us or other restaurants considering the options of grocery, it’s about barely trying to cover costs and stay alive until this is over,” Bonanno says.
Start Simple, Start Small
Pivoting is hard any time but especially in turbulent times. To be successful with a pop- up grocery, or prepared foods prep, you have to simplify wherever possible. Start with a streamlined menu of either grocery items or prepared foods and focus on items that are best sellers. Prioritize comfort foods over exotic items, and consider what travels well and has longevity under refrigeration or freezer.
Move Fast and Learn Faster
In business, it’s easy to get paralyzed in the pursuit of perfection, but in situations like these, speed and agility iis critical for survival. In any venture, failing fast and adapting quickly is preferred over inaction and slow death. Things will not be perfect; restaurants should make it clear to employees, vendors and customers that they are wading into unchartered territory. Transparency and teamwork is key to getting through this together.
Chef Daniel Asher Owner of Tributary Food Hall in Golden, Colorado, is working to pivot Tributary into a grocery in the spirit of moving fast and learning faster:
“Under these crazy circumstances, you need to make a decision to pivot to potentially save your business and literally 30 minutes later you’re executing it,” Asher says. “As food service pros we are used to working under intense pressure and making sense of things in the moment and on the fly. Our biggest imperative as hospitality people is making people feel safe and happy and nourished only now we can’t do it tableside, so we’re rapidly figuring out how to do it via delivery or from 6 feet away.”
Lead with Hospitality
Keeping hospitality front and center is crucial. Customers will notice and restaurant brands that do so may emerge stronger than ever. This hospitality extends to restaurant staff. Restaurant leaders should do whatever is required in the best interest of both business and staff. Consider that this may even include temporarily shutting down operations and redirecting your staff into much needed food roles in the larger food ecosystem where they can serve the public in new ways.
Now is the time for restaurants, distributors and grocery stores to pull together to create a more holistic food ecosystem. Restaurateurs should open the lines of communication with fellow restaurant comrades to share best practices. New partnerships can be forged with grocery stores at the local level that can be mutually beneficial. Restaurants can support grocery by referring underutilized but well-trained food service staff into temporary or P/T positions at the store level to help supplement their lost wages. Working closely with distribution vendors, restaurants can create successful plans to sell wholesale items at retail to their customers. Once these relationships are solidified, these offerings of product and service can be marketed collectively, together. Because at the end of the day, we’re all in this together and that’s how we’ll all get through it.