Empanada Kitchen. Hooked on Poke. Not Not Tacos. Phil’s BBQ. Rockin Baja Lobster. Underbelly North Park.
These are just some of the local food places that have opted to remain open for take-out via pick-up or drive-thru, as well as delivery and gift card sales during the COVID-19 pandemic. And, there are roughly another couple hundred others around the county that have also transformed from serving dine-in customers to a dining-out model during this time, according to SanDiegoRestaurantWeek.com.
To better service restaurants that have decided to weather the coronavirus storm, the website, managed by the California Restaurant Association, San Diego County Chapter, has shifted its focus from the bi-annual “San Diego Restaurant Week” event to become a portal and support site for local restaurants still operating during the crisis.
“We are trying to take the San Diego Restaurant Week website and turn it into a resource for members and non-member restaurants, to let the community know who is open and what they are doing,” said Jeff Rossman, president of the California Restaurant Association, San Diego County Chapter. “Dining as we know it has completely changed… We need take-out every day, not just Tuesdays. We need people ordering, buying gift cards – as much as they can to help restaurants.”
Feed the Public
According to Rossman, between 50% and 60% of local eateries have closed following a mandate for restaurants to shut down in-house seated dining earlier this month. The other 40% to 50% has shifted to a take-out, delivery model, but that isn’t sustainable unless San Diegans actively participate by placing and purchasing food orders, said Rossman. The goal is to keep as many people employed as possible and feed the public as much as possible, he said, adding that the website should serve as a conduit between restaurants and diners.
Consolidated Source of Information
Jessica Waite, co-founder and owner of Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub, The Whet Noodle and The Plot, said, with information changing daily, it is really helpful to have a consolidated source available.
“(My husband) Davin (Waite) and I have three restaurants in South Oceanside,” she said. “We closed Wrench and Whet down when we got the news and transitioned The Plot to take-out only. We felt like we needed a little time to better understand the dynamics of the situation, and assess what order volume would look like. Now that we have a week of data from The Plot, we are going to launch take-out at Wrench & Rodent. We have implemented online ordering and are currently setting up accounts with all of the local delivery services, many of which are offering discounted rates for the next couple of months.”
The San Diego Restaurant Week website breaks all the available information down by various categories, including neighborhood, food type and price. No membership fees or event registration is required and the service is available to any restaurant in San Diego County, whether a member of the California Restaurant Association or not, said Rossman. The site also has an interactive map at the bottom of the homepage with pinned locations of the restaurants that are open during coronavirus.
Meal Kits and Bundles
Rossman, who is also owner and chef of San Diego-based Terra American Bistro, said chefs and restaurateurs of the restaurants that are up and running are getting creative with their offerings, creating do-it-yourself meal kits and pairing bundles like pizza and cookie kits, for example, to further entice consumers. In fact, last week, Rossman said Terra debuted a Taco & Margaritas-for-two package, which included four tacos and two margaritas for $19.99, and, in his words, the restaurant was “slammed” for dinner time and it did “very well.”
“I mean, we are trying everything,” he said, adding that he will soon focus on creating a bundle for the upcoming Easter and Passover holidays. “We’ve enlisted the help of a web master who is putting together a payment portal online. The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control made a ruling… that drinks can be sold with take-out, and that is a pretty big deal. A lot of us are just trying to figure out interesting ways to do things, like offering online cooking classes or wine and beer tastings. Customers would purchase tickets and buy their beer and food that they’d pick up, and then dial in at a certain time with other people and have a wine tasting or beer tasting experience from the comfort of their homes.”
To his point, it helps that a measure by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control was passed earlier this month that temporarily allows California restaurants to sell beer, wine and pre-mixed drinks or cocktails for pick-up delivery, as long as they have a secure lid or cap and are sold with food. The state, according to a press release, has also lifted its ban on alcohol sold at drive-thru windows. It’s one of a number of steps the agency has taken to help the food and beverage industry during the shelter-in-place order, made statewide just days ago by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
According to the press release, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control said it had “carefully considered the public’s health, safety and welfare in providing this relief” and was acting on Newsom’s emergency order to support the food and beverage industries “in its efforts to assist California in slowing the spread of the virus while assisting the industry in dealing with the economic challenges it is facing as a result.”
More Daily Meals
Jot Condie, president and CEO of the California Restaurant Association, said to have all the information of opened restaurants available in one place is pertinent as take-out and food delivery are possibly the most important options available right now because of shelter-in-place.
“Public officials who’ve issued shelter-in-place orders have wisely made an exception for essential activities outside the home, which include the need to pick up groceries or prepared meals,” said Condie. “The need for at-home meals is greater than ever as parents provide more daily meals to children home from school.”
Other, more city-scoped organizations, like Main Street Oceanside and Oceanside Chamber of Commerce, for example, have also done their part to enhance visibility to restaurants that remain open for business. Michelle Geller, economic development manager at the City of Oceanside, said, within hours of the announcement that restaurants were mandate to close in-house dining, both had compiled lists of places in the city doing take-out and delivery.
“The partners, including Visit Oceanside, promptly began blasting that information out across social media, with the restaurants following suit,” she said. “Broader regional organizations like the San Diego Regional EDC and others picked up the messaging… so we’re feeling like the word is getting out. We are all working to spread the word about the importance of supporting our local restaurants right now.”
Additionally, Geller said the City of Oceanside is pushing out information via the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce website on emergency business loans offered through the Small Business Administration, CDC Small Business Finance and others, in addition to assistance programs for affected workers like the San Diego Worker Assistance Program, with more programs expected to roll out in coming days.
Rossman said in an effort to make SanDiegoRestaurantWeek.com the central hub for this type of information, he and his team are actively trying to aggregate all the data available from all the different websites and social groups into the site.
“It is a pretty well-known event and website for San Diego,” he said. “And the California Restaurant Association puts on the event, so, at the end of the day, it is a good thing for people to know who we are and know that we are fighting and advocating for restaurants.”
In an effort to further support the industry, Rossman is encouraging San Diegans to donate to the California Restaurant Association Foundation’s “Restaurant Care Program,” which provides financial support to restaurant employees to help cover basic expenses during the pandemic. He also said he and others involved in the food and beverage industry are currently trying to lobby to congress and to the governor for a moratorium on things like sales tax, but, he said, they are all still waiting to hear back on that.