By RJ Johnson
The bar and restaurant industry took a big hit on March 16. As of 5 p.m., all food could only be ordered to go, or delivered. Bars that didn’t serve food had to close completely. For some locations, especially chain restaurants, this model of business would not be a challenge. Many of them already had drive-thru as an option, and for others they had counters specifically for to-go orders. For others this was going to be more of an issue.
Bill Fischer, the Events Manager of Main Event Catering feels blessed that they recently chose to turn the front of their location into a restaurant named Main Event Grill. The location behind Mr. Prime Beef on Old Seward is now able to offer meals for the public to consume off location as well as ready-made meals.
“This whole thing really could change the entire face of our company,” he said. ”Not sure if it will be better or worse but all we can do is have faith, hope and search for the blessings and count it all as good.”
The company has already suffered the loss of almost $100,000 in cancelled caterings, so they are looking at all possible options to stay afloat. The company’s experience in catering has allowed it to offer one service that could help many families.
“Because of our catering capabilities and our wholesaling permits, we are selling ‘Ready Made Freezer Meals’ that we can deliver to their doors. Aside from catering to Alaskan Families, we are also now pursuing and stocking sandwiches, breakfast burritos and salads at various retail outlets.”
One of the other types of business that will be suffering is your favorite coffee shops. Uncle Leroy’s has uploaded their entire coffee menu to Door Dash and is also doing as much as they can to combat this event.
“Our menu has also been uploaded to Door Dash; however, we are offering in-house complimentary coffee deliveries and whole bean runs. Folks can call us to place an order for pickup, curbside, or delivery” said owner Austin Schwartz.
Kava’s Pancake House on Muldoon has reported an 85% loss in sales, but with the new delivery option and drive-thru option that they offer, they are seeing a slow increase and remain hopeful, even if it is just people stopping in for a $1 cup of coffee. Acai Alaska is reporting a 50% loss in sales but are also staying optimistic in this changing business environment. Little Italy has always been attached to their other business, 88th Street Pizza, but is now offering a blended menu of both restaurants for folks that want to get their favorites from the romantic bistro.
It’s this sort of ingenuity and business sense that has helped other locations also.
Brandi Rathbun of Tiki Pete’s food trucks reports that she has seen a 70% loss in revenue, and since her and husband Marty did not permit their trucks for the winter months, and the municipality is not issuing permits at this time, they feel lucky about their recent purchase of Moose a ’la Mode in downtown Anchorage. The loss in sales forced the couple to lay off their two full time employees, so the owners are doing the work making items like cupcakes, sandwiches, and the hot dogs that made Tiki Pete’s an Anchorage favorite in the first place. With just the two of them doing the work they aren’t able to offer a delivery service but say that they have found success with the GrubHub delivery model. Door Dash has been more of a challenge, but for the Rathbun’s there is one reason that they will continue to work as hard as possible. “The customers are incredible. Truly amazing. They are the reason we haven’t just closed up and hid in a hole. They are so kind, appreciative, and supportive. The few regulars that are still working downtown make a point to order, even if it’s just a drip coffee or bagel. Our friends place large orders and drive over to pick them up.” Brandi feels blessed to be in business in Anchorage, and also said “Anchorage is the greatest and most supportive community out there!”
Customers have been very positive about the new services offered by businesses, and most them say that it has been helping them just as much. Maureen Hanlon mentioned that she was able to get a corned beef and cabbage meal from Suite 100 on St. Patrick’s Day and was very pleased. Jillian Caswell said “It’s been extraordinarily helpful to get food this way. We can continue to support our local businesses while still keeping a safe distance.”
About half of those responding also spoke of doing take-out and delivery in order to support local, a common theme in Alaska.
Erin Egan mentioned that it has encouraged her to try out some new places. Many others also mentioned their pleasure in seeing how seriously the businesses were taking sanitation and cleanliness. From wiping down credit cards after handling them or having a clean cup of sanitized pens for signing credit card slips, all reports were that locations are doing everything in their power to make sure that customers stay safe.
Not every business that was offering take-out and delivery options has been able to stay open as long as they had hoped. Lucky Wishbone, an Anchorage staple since 1955, announced on Monday that they had decided to close for a short while to reassess the safest ways to protect their employees and the general public. Humpy’s Alehouse announced that they would be doing the same thing, and released a statement saying “In accordance with the “hunker down” statement issued by Mayor Berkowitz, we closed our doors last night at 10pm in solidarity with the rest of our state to do our part in slowing the spread of this virus.”
The Pay It Forward program that Humpy’s started years ago has been adopted by other businesses during this time when so many are in need. The owners of Originale in downtown said, “Our sales have dropped about 50% after the “hunker down” order. On Saturday, we started a ‘Pay it Forward’ movement, where our customers donate any amount of money to our restaurant, and we pass meals forward to medical workers, first responders, families that have been laid off and need assistance, or those that are working long shifts. We have been receiving a lot of donations that way, and that has been really helpful.”
49th State Brewing Co. has also been putting as much of a focus on charitable work while they try to stay afloat and keep some employees working. They have been using their Facebook page to get the “word out about our Alaskans for Alaskans initiative to provide $5 meals for the unemployed and health and emergency care workers. We will have a different menu available daily. It’s available for carry-out and for folks working in the health and emergency fields, we’ll deliver to them at no additional cost.” And said they, “want to make sure that the people all over Anchorage don’t have to worry about finding a hearty, delicious, affordable meal.” The menu can be found on the BrewPub’s Facebook page.
In times of chaos and fear the community in Anchorage comes together and supports as much as possible. Depending on how long this pandemic affects the city, some businesses may not recover, and others will have to adapt in order to survive. If the positivity and support from the community remains, the restaurant business might be able to make it. Only time will tell what will happen, for now, positivity and ingenuity are the best tools that everyone has.
The Anchorage Press, in partnership with the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation, is hosting a directory of all the restaurants maintaining takeout service. Visit anchoragepress.com for the listing.
Wash your hands, stay inside except when getting food. We are all in this together.