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Restaurants Go Grocery, Groceries Go Restaurant

By March 28, 2020January 27th, 2021No Comments
Restaurants Go Grocery

Amid the current COVID-19 events, restaurants and grocery stores are adapting to a new way of operating by partnering and taking on more of each other’s roles. Supermarkets are offering take-home food while restaurants offer community essentials, making for more flexible food options for customers.

At the same time, the increased demand for grocery workers has led to supermarket chains partnering to find work for affected restaurant employees. In this article, we take a look at the different ways that two industries are coming together.

Take Home Food

In Washington’s Puget Sound area, where businesses and consumers have been heavily affected by closures and restricted travel, Kroger is expanding its grab-and-go selection with Tutta Bella entrees and dessert. The brand is well-known in Seattle, and the expansion to 31 stores makes it easier for customers to buy ready-to-eat meals from a recognizable brand.

Tutta Bella Grab 'N Go
Tutta Bella at QFC (Kroger), Source: Tutta Bella website

The meals are prepared at the pizza chain’s restaurants and then shipped to the various stores. Previously, Kroger partnered with Tutta Bella to open an integrated restaurant in one of their supermarkets. In response to restaurant shutdowns in the Seattle area, the local Kroger stores have also hired Tutta Bella employees.

In Louisiana, Rouses Markets are supporting the restaurant industry through similar recruitment. CEO Donny Rouse encouraged displaced hospitality workers to apply for immediate openings, and those new employees have been welcomed by the grocery chain into their stores, saying: “We will teach you the grocery business.”

Rouses Market
Rouses Market, a Louisiana favorite, Source: Rouses website

Rather than a simple partnership, Rouses is also working with local restaurants to serve take-home meals pro-bono; the restaurants keep all the profit from the sales of the meals. The current list of Louisiana restaurants selling their food in-store includes Commander’s Palace, Saba, Big Mike’s BBQ, Frank Brightsen, and Bywater Bakery.

Change in Demand

In Miami, Sedano’s Supermarkets is adding up to 400 job openings and also taking in local restaurant workers. Two famous Cuban restaurants, Versailles and La Carreta, are partnering with the supermarket chain to give their workers temporary employees. With the different closures in the United States, many eateries have been reduced to take-out food only. The decreased demand for dining out, coinciding with the increased need for grocery workers, has allowed the Miami food industries to care for their employees in this unprecedented time.

La Carreta
La Carreta, one of the partnered restaurants, Source: Time Out

“We’re struggling just to keep up with demand….we needed the help, so this is mutually beneficial.”

Javier Herran, Sedano’s chief marketing officer

According to the Miami Herald, the effects of the closures are so far-reaching that local chef Michael Schwartz “had to cut all but six of his approximately 460 employees” at his group of nine restaurants. However, some restaurants are adapting by expanding outside of take-out food.

Sudden Creativity

The rapid closures have also left restaurants with a surplus of inventory. As a result, many chefs are selling off their pantries to help themselves and the community. In Los Angeles, All Day Baby organized a one-day “bodega” sale where everything in the storeroom would be sold to consumers–smoked meats, flats of eggs, bread, sauces, brownies, and large amounts of produce would help keep the restaurant and devoted customers afloat. Shortages of supplies, including toilet paper, have even made some restaurants pair their take-home meals with humor and essentials:

Wes Avila of Guerrilla Tacos has even thrown in four rolls of toilet paper with his $150 “emergency taco kit,” which also includes 5 pounds each of carne asada and roasted chicken, a quart each of red and green salsa, tortillas and 30 eggs. He called it a “true Angeleno survival pack” for “crazy and uncertain” times.

Los Angeles Times

Chefs are filling in for their communities, operating as micro-markets that serve as middle grounds. Instead of making trips to warehouse stores and supermarkets, customers can go to their local restaurants to support them–and have that added convenience. Some cities are forming restaurant coalitions, including San Antonio, Texas. MySanAntonio compiled a list of restaurants-turned-grocery, showcasing the quick turnaround that is happening across the industry. The full list is available here.

San Antonio grocerants
Various “grocerants” in San Antonio, Source: MySanAntonio

By flipping the traditional “grocerant” model, where supermarkets partner with restaurants to offer upscale dining options in their stores, the restaurant industry is rapidly adjusting to the pandemic closures. Though they face revenue losses and decreased demand, there is still an opportunity to sell their pantry staples.

Reservation Systems Repurposed

For one Washington, D.C.-based restaurant group, the move to grocery happened almost overnight. After having to lay off 1,000 employees and reducing salaries, the co-owner of the group transformed the restaurants into corner stores. Because the supply chain for the group is separate from supermarkets, many out-of-stock items were readily available for re-selling. Dan Simons, the co-owner, described the process and its unique difficulties shortly after opening.

“The demand is so huge [for grocery stores] and I can also get a huge box of toilet paper but what I don’t have is toilet paper wrapped in plastic. I buy eggs in cases of 144 and I’ll have to put them into something smaller,” said Simons.

Nation’s Restaurant News

Out of necessity, the restaurant industry is also repurposing the reservation systems that previously supported their high-demand operations. Dan Simons’ Farmers Market + Grocery began using OpenTable to organize pickup times for supplies, allowing for a tech-forward approach to social distancing. Other reservation platforms like Tock have shifted to exclusively scheduling pickup and delivery, making for an increasingly connected food network in a short time.

Tock reservation system

The most impressive part of the restaurant-to-grocery shift is the speed at which it is occurring. Nation’s Restaurant News reported that it would normally take far longer to complete the transition, saying “Simons’ idea for a bodega, from inception to reality, happened in 72 hours. In a normal world, something like that would take about six months for a restaurant to plan and execute, at the very least.”

A Flexible Food Industry

In the wake of restaurant closures and increased demand, the competing food industries are both in accord and at odds. Some restaurants are embracing the temporary work available for their employees at grocery stores, while others have transformed their businesses into community support centers. Because supermarkets hold essential-business status, they are in position to provide expansive employment opportunities, but their supply chain also differs from that of the restaurant industry. After restaurants sell of their remaining inventory, they may require further innovation in order to continue supporting their communities.

The flexible role of food providers in the current pandemic environment has made for brand-new retail opportunities, often precarious. For more information on retail changes from the last few weeks, you can read our coverage of unusual steps grocery stores have made since the start of the pandemic here.

You can also read Winsight Grocery’s’ coverage of post-COVID advice from pricing strategy thought leaders here.