Opening a restaurant is daunting at any time, but doing so during a pandemic is forcing some veteran and fledgling restaurateurs to cook up survival strategies before they are able to take their first orders.

According to the National Restaurant Association, out of 100,000 restaurants nationwide, nearly one in six have gone under as a result of the pandemic. That could be a harbinger of tough times for the industry, but it’s definitely a time for opportunity to thrive and take hold.

There isn’t a documented handbook on how to open a food establishment during a global pandemic, but there are some out there making it work. Here in the Triad, there are nearly 2,000 restaurants and over two dozen of them have opened since March. For every restaurant opening in Greensboro, there are five in Winston-Salem opening. Liz Grubbs of Slice of Napoli, in the Club Haven Shopping Center on Country Club Road, is one of them.

“We needed to find a spot that was previously a restaurant,” says Grubbs, who owns Slice of Napoli with her husband, Daniele Scala. “That way it saves money on our end. My husband wanted a small pizza place and that’s exactly what it is.”

A fire closed their previous restaurant, Little Italy #4 in Welcome and sent the couple on a three-and-a-half-year search for the perfect spot. They found the space, formerly occupied by Kiro Family Restaurant, in early March.

“When we found it, we took it over; we bought the equipment inside,” Grubbs says. “You know, that was our savings. And then the pandemic hit the US. We had no option, to be honest with you. It was super scary. But we put our all into it. All of our savings into it, so there was no waiting. We had to do it.”

The original plan was to open in June, but Slice didn’t open until mid August. Grubbs says everything took longer: inspections, construction. Some of their equipment was shipped from overseas and delivery took longer too.

“We’re going to give it our all and it’s going to work out just fine,” Grubbs says. “It could be better; we want it to be better and eventually it will be better. But we’re paying the bills at work. And we’re able to pay the bills at home.”

While not a restaurant or food cart, Smoke City Meats, an artisan butcher shop in Winston-Salem, already had plans in place to open when the pandemic hit too. The original grand opening date was planned before ruminations of the coronavirus at the beginning of the year.

Smoke City Meats in Winston-Salem opened in May. (photo by Carolyn de Berry)

“We planned to open at the beginning of May,” says Kate Bowers, Smoke City Meats marketing director. “We just pushed forward because people were counting on us.”

While many shoppers didn’t feel comfortable going to the grocery store due to coronavirus restrictions and health concerns, the small shop on Reynolda Roapd in the West End neighborhood provided a safe way for customers to get local meat and provisions via curbside pickup. According to their website, they source their meats from farms in Caldwell and Wilkes Counties and Joyce Farms in Winston-Salem.

“We didn’t want to let our customers down and we didn’t want to let our farmers down who were counting on us to open and purchase from them,” says Bowers.  “If you had told us before we opened the doors we’d be opening during a pandemic, I think we still would have gone for it because it was something that the community needed.”

While some restaurants like Smoke City Meats continued full-steam ahead with plans made before the pandemic, others opted to move locations or adopted new business models.

“Overall, helping people get jobs and all of that hasn’t changed, but I think the market segment that we’re going to be operating in and how we do things is going to be a lot different moving forward,” says Jeff Bacon, vice president and executive director of Providence Restaurant and Catering.

Providence Restaurant opened in 2018 and operated out of the DoubleTree Inn on University Parkway in Winston-Salem. The restaurant and catering operations moved to take over culinary operations at Tanglewood Park in Clemmons in late September. The culinary training program remained at Second Harvest’s headquarters warehouse.

“We lost our market segment at Providence Restaurant because of the whole COVID shutdown,“ Bacon says. “We thought, Are we going to rebuild from scratch? Because hotel business went totally away for a time out there, and we had worked really hard to build up our following out there.”

When the pandemic started, the restaurant was on a month-to-month lease at the DoubleTree. The Providence team started looking at it from a financial aspect and it made sense to move out to Clemmons. What’s new: The Providence Team will staff the newly named enterprise — Providence at the Manor House, a 10-room bed and breakfast inn. Providence will also manage and staff food and beverage operations at Providence Grill in the Golf Club House. Right now, the Manor House only serves breakfast to overnight guests staying on-site. In the spring, plans for dinner service will begin. Currently, Providence Grill inside the main clubhouse is open to the public seven days a week.

Providence Grill (courtesy photo)

The largest segment of food businesses that have opened since March are coffee shops and bakeries. Typically, overhead and cost of ingredients is lower for these ventures when compared to restaurants. But, the same trials and tribulations can befall a bake shop too.

Just like Providence, Shayna and Jesse Wesselink had to shift their business model for Oh Goodness Bakery in Greensboro to accommodate COVID-19 and the pandemic. What started strictly as a wholesale operation specializing in low-carb and gluten-free baked goods in December 2019, turned into a retail storefront in July.

“We scaled back our wholesale because I couldn’t get sugar and chocolate chips shipped in a timely manner,” says Shayna. Making use of the Out Of The Garden Project shared-use kitchen, and providing baked goods to places like Deep Roots Market in Greensboro and The Only Earth health food store in High Point, their wholesale business dried up and the owners had to decide what step to take next to save their business.

“My husband was out walking the dog and he saw the space,” Shayna says. “The landlord was willing to work with us and we opened a pop-up location.”

The little storefront opened the first week of October on the corner of Elm and Gate City Blvd. Within four hours of opening the doors, the shop went through all of its inventory. The same crowds continued to buy everything in the case day after day. Currently, the shop kitchen is being upfitted for an on-site kitchen. Shayna is looking to expand even more and is currently searching for a bakery assistant to help with production.

“You just never know what’s going to happen when you take that leap,” says Shayna.

Below is a list of food establishments that have opened in the Triad in the last couple of months:

Winston-Salem

Greensboro 

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