Many restaurants are working creatively to balance following CDC guidelines, sheltering their customers from bad weather while indoor dining isn’t allowed and keeping their businesses afloat.
Gulf Shores Restaurant & Catering
While Gulf Shores Restaurant & Catering owner Harry Parker invested in patio heating, adding a food truck has made all the difference.
“The food trucks have helped quite a bit, because what we’ve done is we’ve included food trucks into the restaurant here, because the restaurant can kind of act as a commissary,” Parker said. “So we can keep most of our kitchen staff intact, in fact [we’re] even looking to hire a kitchen staff member right now, so that’s a win of course.”
Parker said they have a different concept for how they run a food truck, and will often cater for large businesses in a short period of time.
“We do large parties, we do preorders, and then we take it to them, and we can serve a group of about maybe 100 to 125 in less than a half an hour or a half an hour to forty-five minutes, because they’re premade,” Parker said. “It’s almost like a hotbox lunch. We actually turn the food truck into a warmer, so we can make the food in the restaurant like tacos, soups, gumbo and so forth like that. We can make that at the restaurant, keep it hot on the truck, and then distribute it very quickly.”
He said with the food being prepaid, they don’t have to worry about running out of food because they know what the orders are.
Parker said he has a philosophy for when times get tough.
“The thing that I believe is when the times are difficult, if you will calm yourself down and don’t get caught up into it, there’s opportunities in difficult times,” Parker said. “It’s just that people will get so caught up into the difficulty of the situation they won’t let their minds go.”
He said a lot of people thought buying a food truck was a risky move during the pandemic.
“A lot of people thought I was crazy because we invested in this food truck in March,” Parker said. “A lot of people will think, ‘Well that’s crazy, how can you invest that much in a food truck at a time like this,’ and I was actually trying to take advantage of the inevitable, and so we’re looking very smart now that we’ve done it, but it’s risky, it’s a risky business, but it’s the kind of thing you can do when you treat your restaurant as a consumerist.”
Parker said he wants to encourage other restaurants to allow their minds to wander and find creative solutions to stay afloat.
“It’s a very difficult time, and I saw some of the restaurants that are shutting down, and I can understand why,” Parker said. “I mean, nothing stops except the income. So I can understand it, but I would urge other restaurants to try and be as creative as possible. There’s no way you can make 100 percent of your revenue, but when it’s like this, every single dollar that you can create, now's the time to get creative, now's the time to have some ingenuity about it, and then there’s the potential that you can at least make enough money to keep your doors open.”
For more information, visit the Gulf Shores Restaurant & Catering website.
Doc’s Smokehouse and Grill
Doc’s Smokehouse and Grill employee Alysia Brown said customers are allowed to order their food inside, but they take all precautions possible to limit contact between people.
“I know a lot of restaurants are still letting people come inside, but we don’t let them eat inside,” Brown said. “We only let them order at the register and then actually go back out to their cars to sit, and we bring the food out to them. We try not to have people standing in the dining room waiting for food, we try to make sure we always take payments over the phone. Anything where we can reduce the amount of contact between people is what we’ve really been trying to focus on to keep everyone safe.”
Brown said they still follow safety guidelines, and hold their staff strictly to them.
“Safety precaution wise, we still wear masks and sanitize when [customers] leave as a precaution as well as making our team wear masks and gloves at all times,” Brown said.
She said she wants to encourage everyone to stay safe and to show support for their local businesses.
“Continue to support your small businesses, and we’re trying our best to make sure that we keep you guys safe as well as keeping ourselves safe, and I hope everyone just stays safe out there,” Brown said.
For more information, visit the Doc’s Smokehouse and Grill website.
54th Street employee Megan Miller, said they have a more enclosed area than a lot of restaurants, but do still follow CDC guidelines.
“We have heaters on the ceiling, so it’s more enclosed, we just have windows and doors that can be opened, so it’s not like a tent that these other places have,” Miller said.
Miller said they do this in order to account for bad weather variations that could harm their customers.
“We have those big sliding glass doors and also some windows above the bars,” Miller said. “There’s walls and a ceiling so that way if it’s raining, or snowing, or windy, it blocks that from coming to people, but we do still have the doors, the huge ceiling and windows as well that we keep open for CDC guidelines, and then heaters above certain tables.”
For more information, visit the 54th Street website.
1818 Chophouse owner Megan Pashea said they will only be providing carryout during the winter months.
“Now that the weather has changed, for a while there we were turning the fire pit on outside [and] we did have heaters, but now it’s just much too cold to offer outdoor dining at this point,” Pashea said. “The cost of tents and having to keep them 50 percent open … just doesn’t outweigh the amount of volume.”
Pashea said they have also started another carryout business to increase revenue for their restaurant chain.
“As the weather started to turn and more restrictions came down, we started a virtual kitchen concept, which is called Chew Doin Fried Chicken and Ramen. Virtual kitchens are what they call ‘ghost kitchens,’ which don’t really house a home base or an indoor, retail dining kind of space. They’re more meant to be more delivery and carryout.”
She said her son gave her the inspiration for its name.
“That comes from my fiancé and I, who’s our chef,” Pashea said. “Our son, he’s five, but that’s what he says all the time, ‘chew doin’, chew doin’, whatchu doin’?’”
Pashea said the patio business did really well until the winter months, which is why they plan to bring it back given the state ban on indoor dining.
“We were doing a decent patio business,” Pashea said. “I feel like the weather really cooperated this year, and at that point our sole focus was service, and getting people back in the groove of doing what they’re there to do, which is to be in the hospitality business.”
For more information, visit the 1818 Chophouse website.