CHOW Foods partners Peter Levy and Chef Anthony Hubbard have always thought outside the box at their restaurants — offering rotating menus showcasing a smorgasbord of alluring cuisines. Now, they're forced to get even more creative to stay afloat during COVID-19.
"The whole focus is being nimble," said Levy.
Both restaurants have spiced things up with two separate walk-up offerings installed in the front of each restaurant; G&H Pig Palace (a classic BBQ menu featuring highlights from beef brisket with cabbage slaw and cornbread to housemade Texas hot links) and Popoki Nani (think Hawaiian favorites like Kalua pork and SPAM ‘n egg). Levy says that if you told him six months ago he'd be operating four walk-up windows, he'd think you were crazy. Yet this ingenious experiment marks an exciting — and necessary — shift.
Endolyne Joe's is officially open for dine-in service as of Friday, June 26. Cooks Tavern in Tacoma is now open and running at 50% capacity. Levy is counting on this combination of in-house dining plus brand-new walk-ups.
"I'm hopeful it will help us to stay above water until something good happens," he said.
Recently, Levy had gone from six to four restaurants. With recent adaptations, he feels strongly the remaining four will survive, yet he's quick to point out the two full-service venues will only survive because of this alternative plan. With the expectation that this COVID-altered way of life won't leave anytime soon, restaurants face challenges on so many levels.
Having secured PPP loans will help pay rent through July, Levy said, yet things become less known after that. He acknowledges that landlords are currently in as much trouble as the restaurants. And he's greatly concerned for smaller businesses.
"How are they going to survive?" he asked. "These independent businesses are the backbone of the industry."
The real issue revolves around labor and finding efficiency within the matrix. Levy aims to retain all his supervisors and managerial staff. But now that they're calling on employees to come back and work, they're finding that many prefer not to return since unemployment earnings are high — plus many have to factor the safety of their families at home.
Despite all this, silver linings abound. Levy gushes about how supportive customers have been, from buying curbside orders and gift cards to tipping his staff generously. He's especially appreciative since he acknowledges that eating out is not inexpensive, especially since they've been forced to keep regular menu prices for takeout dishes — one advantage: Their sizing. Levy offers a tip: the fried chicken dinner can feed a family of three for $18. Levy is also grateful to have restaurants located in community-minded neighborhoods.
Levy is most concerned about ensuring the safety and health of his customers and employees. At the walk-up windows, they've installed plexiglass, and all employees will continue to wear masks and gloves.
"We're doing everything we can to protect them," he said.
These past months have been horribly aggravating for Levy, yet he admits to still loving the industry.
"I have a passion for it that won't die," he said.
Levi also emphasizes that, although he often comes up with the ideas, it's the team who truly makes everything happen — from his very innovative facilities manager and wonderful front-of-house partner to an executive chef who keeps banging out wonderful menus.
"I'm surrounded by excellence," Levy said, "that's why I'm going to survive."
The future is unknown, yet after 40 years in the business, Levy remains hopeful because they're adapting. And right now, being flexible is the name of the game.