More than four months into the pandemic, many Valley restaurants are struggling. Between state-mandated regulations limiting the number of people they can serve in-house and a very frightened public, some local restaurant owners have safely divided up their dining rooms and/or turned to enhanced takeout options with contactless curbside pickup. We recently caught up with Christopher Collins of Common Ground Culinary, who owns local favorites Grassroots, Twisted Grove Parlor & Bar, Wally’s, Sweet Provisions, The Collins and The Macintosh, to get a first-hand account of what’s happening in the trenches.
Q: How are you coping with the pandemic?
A: It’s a roller coaster. I’ve really been trying to put things in perspective. It’s obviously very challenging for all six of our local businesses and we’ve worked so hard going to curbside and then opening up. I did get my loan from the federal government and I was able to bring back my entire staff. I’m so thankful and happy that for the last seven years I’ve been trying to be the neighborhood restaurant, because now it’s the neighborhood supporting us.
Q: What are you doing to keep your customers and staff safe?
A: We have gone above and beyond in taking care of our staff, our guests and our facilities. We have a weekly sanitation fog company come in and every table is completely cleaned with a food-grade sanitizer that’s approved by the CDC to kill the coronavirus; and every single table, every single seat is wiped down between uses. From the get go, we took this as seriously as possible. By our own choice, we had less than 50 percent seating. We kept everyone six feet apart from the very beginning and we mandated masks for our staff before anyone started doing that. We’ve been trying to take in the information, digest it as honestly as possible and always err on the side of caution. All of our staff is very healthy. We sanitize, we wash hands, we wear gloves, we keep people apart, we manage our reservations.
Q: Are you doing much takeout business?
A: We’re doing takeout at all our restaurants and it averages between 25 and 30 percent of sales every day. Prior to COVID, it might have been 5-10 percent, but that’s where the neighbors in our neighborhoods are supporting us.
Q: What are some of the precautions you are taking with to go orders?
A: Every restaurant has a loading station, a station where there’s a designated curbside person every single night who only manages the phones and the curbside orders… We offer our guests to pay over the phone or pay online so we have contactless exchange at the curbside. The efforts we put forth in the last seven years are paying dividends today because people know our standards.
Q: How are your customers adjusting to the changes?
A: People have been very understanding, compassionate, thankful and appreciative. They want the local restaurants to survive, but some haven’t. We thank them from the bottom of our hearts. They’re saving hundreds of people’s livelihoods and we’re just a small drop in the bucket. Keep supporting local restaurants. If I could, I would paint that in the sky.