turned tables

restauranting in the time of covid

When I think about the idea of creating a blog while the pandemic is spiking, and the town is moving backward to Phase III, I do begin to question my sanity or my lack thereof, but I needed a way to re-connect with all of you and to let you know that no changes, big or small are thought of arbitrarily. I carefully consider all advice and comments made to me over the past 9 months, complimentary or otherwise there is something to be learned through all of it.

It has forced me to re-think the way I do everything.  To stay in this, I must keep evolving. To be transparent, I must be open about the challenges, how they affect the UX, and how it affects you.

“Out of life’s school of war—what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.”

-Nietzsche

My strength comes from the renewal of faith almost every night in that you are kind, considerate, and generous.

From the very beginning,  the sizable gestures—the purchases of multiple gift cards, volunteering of time to build out the patio add-ons, to the smaller gestures like the notes we still receive on takeout orders-you cannot possibly know how much we look forward to these still! All the kindnesses in the dining room and the random acts of kindness that take my breath away-like TWO people restoring a tattered Army portrait of my father. But MOST importantly, the repeated patronage is what powers us through. The UXLocale is not just a restaurant; it is a community; we feel your unconditional-socially-distanced-love and hope you feel it too.

This year has been the worst, but lamenting over what we have lost and miss will not help change the future. I have accepted that things will be different, and I am focusing on how to come out on the other side.

I miss live music; I miss the bar with two people deep, miss the crazy loudness, miss seeing neighbors greeting each other with hugs, and miss picking up babies. I miss spoon drags and fancy-sort-of-pretentious-plating! I miss The Sweet Life on the Hill!  

 

The moral here is that if you say you want to help and then say, “I mean it.”
I will call you, probably before you’ve left the table. 🙂
Acts of Kindness-two folks restored this photo of my Dad
Out of the Mouths of Babes! LOVE! Sounds like the sweet life to me!
A Time-Lapse of The First Friday Night After the Shutdown
I Get Choked Up Every Time!

the challenges
when nothing works, and business as usual seems like a foreign concept

On an average day, things crop up, and we whack-a-mole them down, but this is the hospitality business; we smile and march on. We do genuinely enjoy being together and being there for you. Still, since March, there have been an unprecedented amount of challenges: the most significant the decrease in revenue, also sourcing, staffing, all things technical: telephone messaging and online orders, structural-both physical and infrastructure, and the basic physicality of it all.

It has been consistently 16-20% lower on average over last year, which is not great, but it was manageable, but since October, it is decreased further to 40%.  We are still smiling because you are still coming, and we may be half-crazy, but I would be lying if I denied it is getting a little scary. We have gone from 5 servers to 4, to 3, and now to 2, and if we are going to get through this, we need to tighten our belts a little more and make some changes.

I’ve spent lots of money on retrofitting the patio, the dining spaces, and the bar. Was it good money after bad? that is questionable. Still, I’m trying to create an atmosphere that is safe and segregated: put up walls, dividers, plexiglass and added more space heaters for those of you that prefer to eat outdoors still. 

Takeout Problems and Solutions
Technical

Regarding takeout, some challenges, in the beginning, stemmed from our online portal not being able to handle the influx of orders. A great problem to have, but pizza sales increased by 200%. Again, great problem; it is just that each of our pizzas is hand-stretched and rotated manually in the woodfired oven to create the perfect pie. The problem? You can only fit 4 pizzas in the oven at once, and everyone wants their pie at 6:30! The other problem was slips not printing to both kitchen and pizza, which throws timing orders together out the window.

I switched over to a new online platform that can simultaneously handle multiple orders and figured out how to shut down time slots once they are filled manually. In September, I hired a Manager who balances takeout, reservations, and the phone as unflappable as I have ever seen. Constantly communicating with the kitchen and pizza to try and keep everyone timed up. I have also acquired a messaging service that sends messages directly into a remote online portal, which makes listening to messages much easier, and eradicates, “the mailbox is full problem.”

Takeout Problems and Solutions
Quality Control

Another significant challenge is packing food for travel. Pizza, pasta, and salads aside, most other entrees do not travel well. They get cold, sauces break, or get absorbed in our eco-friendly boxes; the texture is ruined by reheating. The solution: I am currently working on an à la carte menu in which all proteins and side dishes will come separately. There will also be an option to have things prepared fully or partially for you to be in control of temperature and texture. I honestly lose sleep thinking that folks may be reheating scallops in the microwave. Please, never do that ☹. Accompanying the semi-made food will be video shorts on how to finish the food in the comfort of your home.  I promise to make it quick and painless, a blog-of-sorts where I will walk you through assembling your dinner–tips and tricks and provide the partially made ingredients and pantry items that will require 5-10 minutes of reheating. I will also make suggestions for wines to accompany your dinner.

Many of you have approached me about cooking lessons, and while I love the idea, I do not foresee any groups gathering for a while, so I hope this will suffice in the meantime. The blog will have a section dedicated to basic cooking techniques. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, I decided to branch out a bit when there was a supply shortage. I started a modest stockpile of pantry items that I really could not live without, well maybe I could technically live without salted Sicilian capers, but do I want to?  For me, it was a necessity not to be without fine products. I have tightened up the menu some, but I will never compromise quality. 

I am eternally thankful for your patronage and will do everything humanly possible to keep this going. The UX is an extension of me. Thank you for filling it up with love.

Elaine Teresa Pusateri Cowan, Chef/Owner The UXLocale