Before the COVID-19 pandemic reached Colorado, Indulge Bistro & Wine Bar was having a record year.
The restaurant's three locations, Highlands Ranch, Golden and Centennial, were shut down for in-store dining March 17, along with the rest of the state's sit-down food establishments.
“We knew it was going to have an impact on our business before the shutdowns,” said co-owner Peter Fatianow.
Fatianow, a long-time entrepreneur who owns the restaurant with his wife, said he knew the business would have to make a major shift to survive.
“Delivery can't sustain a restaurant business right now,” he said.
The way he sees it, it doesn't make sense to pay the costs of preparing the food in the hopes that there will be enough orders, he said.
Instead, he and his wife Delinda decided to switch their restaurant to a grocery model. The day after Gov. Jared Polis closed restaurants to dine-in service, they opened the grocery and closed their kitchens for any food preparation.
“We were ready to roll,” Fatianow said.
Instead of shelves and carts, however, the store has dining tables and boxes of food products. Because of the virus, only five people are allowed inside at a time and they are required to stand on red x's — six feet apart, of course.
The store also encourages patrons to place their orders over the phone so the employees can bring the food out to the car.
“It was very clear that the pain people were feeling is that they would go into grocery stores and shelves would be bare,” Fatianow said. “The other part is that higher risk people are concerned about touching grocery carts.”
The stores also deliver their grocery items, which include items like flour, bread, eggs, wine, vegetables, meat, fish and milk. The restaurant also offers a variety of food packs, such as the burger pack, which includes beef patties, brioche buns and a bottle of ketchup.
The stress of layoffs
When the restrictions on dine-in service were announced, Indulge had to lay off about 70 of its 80 employees, only keeping a few to help with the grocery store.
“I've never had to have a mass layoff in any companies,” Fatianow said. “That was by far the hardest thing in my entrepreneurial career that I've ever had to do.”
During that first week, Fatianow and his remaining team worked up to 18 hours per day as they pivoted their entire business model, he said.
“We had to figure out a way these leases were going to get paid or they were going to come take our house,” he said. “It was survival.”
Now that the grocery model seems to be thriving, they've granted themselves a few moments of rest before they start in on the next steps: figuring out what happens when the sanctions are lifted.
“What will restaurants look like when we reopen?” he said. “Are people going to want to come back?”
Fatianow hopes to see the regulations that were waived to allow restaurants like his to sell bottled wine and grocery products permanently changed.
“We're trying to be proactive… and provide additional revenue streams for restaurants that make it out of this,” he said.
Indulge isn't the only restaurant that has adopted this approach. Others in the area have also started selling bulk or raw items like eggs, condiments and even toilet paper.
Tributary Food Hall in Golden has temporarily shifted to a gourmet grocery store. While Taste of Philly in Highlands Ranch started selling grocery items at the start of the shutdown, the store eventually stopped after not finding many buyers, owner Martin Garvey said.
“One of the reasons we're able to do this is because we have a completely different supply chain,” Fatianow said.
Fatianow expected they would make some sales, he said. What surprised him, is just how excited people are about what they see as fewer germs and more accessible food.
“They appreciate that they don't have to go to a grocery store,” he said. “And we can help feed their family in a safe way.”
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