How to Pivot During A Pandemic
Restaurateur, Jeremy McLellan, shares secrets on how Bread & Brine has successfully maneuvered through this past year.
It’s no surprise that restaurants are among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. I mean, of all the places one would think of contracting this virus, eating out next to strangers would be pretty high on the list. For a food blogger like myself, I quickly looked for accommodations being made by restaurants that would make me feel comfortable still doing what I love.
Among the local restaurants that stood out to me as pivoting exceptionally well, is Bread and Brine, a fast-casual seafood restaurant in my hometown of Hastings on Hudson. Their takeout menu and affordable pricing are what first drew me to them last Spring, but I’ve seen firsthand the development of new initiatives to keep the public engaged, excited, and ready to eat!
I was thrilled to speak to the co-owner of Bread & Brine, Jeremy McLellan, on his experience this past year. Both he and his partner Alex Sze have dedicated all of their efforts to encourage customers to stop by for a visit. Their biggest challenge was going from a restaurant that was driven by the atmosphere, to one where consumers couldn’t come to sit inside and enjoy the space. They wanted to create a new dining experience that still gave customers that New England vibe that first inspired them to create Bread & Brine.
“Before COVID-19 we barely did any takeout orders. Maybe on a Friday night, we’d get 5 takeout orders which would be a lot for us,” said McLellan. “So you go from something like that to the complete other end of the seesaw, it was a culture shock for us Alex and I both agreed we were going to go all-in on takeout since everyone was wanting to stay home. It took months to figure out the takeout game, but we did it.”
In addition to revamping their takeout options, their team also took advantage of the summer weather and extra outdoor seating space provided by the Village of Hastings. “We caught our stride come summertime and there were nights where it was rocking which was great to see,” McLellan shared.
As he and I chatted through his experience, he shared stories and tips on how other restaurants can successfully pivot this year as we continue to battle this pandemic. Below are a few of the developments that worked best for them.
Take Out Ordering: One major development was the creation of their takeout window they called “The Salt Box,” which was designed in an effort to keep the beach vibe going. This window is your go-to stop for anything and everything you want to order from their restaurant. You can grab something to go, or grab your meal at the window and settle down at one of their outdoor tables. This is also where you can purchase merchandise and beverages to go!
Menu Items + Drink Promotions: Pre-COVID Bread & Brine’s menu boasted more intricate meals for a special night dining out. When the pandemic hit they chose to approach a new business model where they offered menu items that were more reasonably priced and accessible while still maintaining delicious flavor. To help increase the public’s interest, they regularly promoted new menu items and restaurant developments on their Instagram. Most recently they’ve hosted a Jewish Deli Pop-Up and a wildly successful Ramen Pop-Up. While I can’t confirm just yet, I’ve heard from the man himself, that McLellan and the team are hoping to set up a permanent space on their back counter to host “Speakeasy Ramen.”
Partner Collaboration: Bread & Brine has done an excellent job in finding new avenues of growth and revenue through collaborating with local organizations and chefs. This past summer they set up shop at The Tennis Club of Hastings located at the waterfront where they offered beverages to members and sold fresh lobster rolls to any passerby. They’ve also been sharing kitchen space with Jody’s Kitchen, a renowned chef who creates farm-to-table provisions being sold at farmer's markets throughout the river towns. Jody has worked in the kitchen of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, the only Michelin-starred restaurant in the Hudson Valley. On Bread & Brine’s list of exciting coming attractions, they plan on turning their online seafood market into a physical grocery store complete with fresh seafood, beer, wine, and additional pantry items for any recipe you may be looking to create. They are hoping to get this market up and running by this Spring.
With COVID continuing to impact us for the unforeseen future, our contributions as consumers are more important now than ever before. There are plenty of restaurants in the area that offer accommodations to meet your comfort needs. Here are some ways customers can give back to the restaurants that have so graciously provided services such as these.
Show Up: One of the most beneficial things you can do for restaurants right now is just engaging with them on a regular basis! Whether this means showing support from the comfort of your homes on social media or stopping by in-person to pick up some food. These small actions will do wonders for them.
Purchase Food & Merch: If you decide to help out financially, which ALL restaurants can benefit from right now, there are options to meet everyone's needs. If you aren’t comfortable eating out at all yet, why not pick up some swag from them? Many are offering t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, and more with their branding on them.
Tip Generously: Before COVID started I already lived by generous tipping. A few extra dollars can go a long way for service industry employees. It’s more important now than ever to give back in this way if you have the means.
So many restaurants like Bread & Brine have dedicated months trying to perfect a new model that conforms to COVID protocols. While some can’t wait to get back to their regular operations, McLellan has his own thoughts on the future of his business. “I don’t really know if we’ll go back to the way we used to be. In the beginning, we thought it was a band-aid, but it’s been a long time since this started. We’ve invested in this new model and system, and we’re much better at it than we were a year ago. I’m looking forward to seeing how far this new business model can go.”
One thing restaurateurs and consumers such as myself can all agree on is that we’re most excited to get to a place where we no longer need to be wearing a mask and can smile at each other again!