Brewing and Mixing Changes in Miami
Camila Ramos is not your average coffee shop owner. Before learning how to prepare the perfect cup of espresso (she ranked 5th in 2014's United States Barista Championship), or run maintenance to her custom made five-group La Marzocco coffee machine (it’s the only one in the world), she was a Microbiology student at University of Florida, where she left after 3 years to pursue a career in the hospitality industry . So, on March 7th, when she first read that the first COVID-19 case appeared in Broward Country, about 50 Kilometers north of All Day, her coffee shop located in the up and coming Overtown area in Miami, she understood the implications that it would bring to her business, and the local Industry. As the Virus spread at a significantly fast pace, she had to react literally in hours in order to be able to pivot her business into an operation that, in the best case scenario, could break even without having to let go her workers, many of which have been working at All Day even before it opened its doors in 2016.
Facing the imminent hit that her, and all the food industry businesses would get as a result of COVID-19 measures, she had to think fast, make bold decisions, without knowing the real outcome, nobody did. First, Camila set up a delivery and take out operation overnight, including a 20hr spree that was interrupted only for a 1-hour dinner with her little daughter. With some guidance from friend and local baker Zak Stern, a basic delivery and take-out system was set, based on Square. All menu items were rapidly listed, and the online ordering platform was up and running in record time. Camila and her team defined new processes and procedures, and bought all the required materials such as containers, warmers, bags, etc. The fact that All Day menu is relatively small and simple, made this task easier.
During those days, a lot of questions and uncertainties where discussed and answered over a Whatsapp group chat with over 150 processionals from Miami’s food industry, that included lawyers, insurance brokers, accountants, and of course, many chefs and restaurant owners. This became an informal central source of information for restaurant owners about what to do, what was allowed and what was not, legal implications of different actions, and so on. Also, it became a great platform to exchange experiences and advice, people were asking a lot of questions, exchanging information and data that otherwise would have been considered as confidential, or provided competitive advantages, but this is business during Corona Virus.
All Day take-out and delivery operations were up and running in no time, thus securing many jobs and bringing a much needed revenue to the business. Everybody learned to do mostly everything at All Day, baristas were able to leave their stations to do the deliveries, getting reimbursed for mileage and gas, hence making some extra money on those deliveries and tips.
After a quick relative success, All Day launched the grocery program, where they sell on-line most of their locally-sourced grocery items to clients. That not only gave buyers access to Florida fresh farm eggs, pork, local milk, and produce from small local vendors and farmers, but also helped increase the average ticket. At the same time, the Now clients can by on top of All Day menu items, helping also all her local vendors, and bringing more revenues to the industry. “We are delivering to 23 zip codes and have tiered service charge based on distance from us and order size. This is going directly to tipped staff (both delivery and those managing orders, cooking, and making drinks, etc.). So far they are each earning 6.89/hour in pick-up tips/delivery service charges.”
During the first week, All Day was able to schedule 85% of the hours they normally staff (507 hours paid compared to 595 the previous, pre-COVID week). Not everything at All Day during this first week as positive news, especially for its owners, payroll costs increased to 58% of total sales (usually they are between 30-35%), as their salaried staff is capped at 55 hours. Camila mentioned: “This resulted in a small net loss for the week. All circumstances considered, we call this a win.” Now Camila has turned her business into a non-profit organization, where all excedent goes to an industry relief fund to cover meals for the unemployed. All Day is one of the very few restaurants that has not let go any of their employees, on the contrary, as the current business model grows, Camila might need to hire some more people soon. With all the infrastructure and procedures in place, Camila has also offered other restaurants in the area to pick up other orders on their routes. “Although we don’t have any profits from the store last week to provide groceries, because of the first direct donations to the relief fund we will be able to provide 60 bags of groceries to the relief applicants, which are now well over 100.” What All Day has learned during the first days of operation, is now knowledge and experience available to the local industry.
Crossing the Julia Tuttle bridge from Miami to Miami Beach (they are technically two different cities sewed together by a number of bridges), Elad Zvi and Gabe Orta, founders of Broken Shaker, the successful bar operation that has expanded to Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, are also evaluating the current situation and venturing into new opportunities. According to Elad, even though these days are complicated, it is also an opportunity to be creative, and to get ready to face the new challenges post Corona Virus. For Elad and Gabe, this was the perfect opportunity to take a project that has been in the back burner for many years, they were always too busy to launch a cocktail kit delivery program and bring the Bar-Lab and Broken Shaker experience home.
For US$ 30, clients can get a kit that includes everything the home bartender needs, but the spirits, to prepare one pair of three different cocktails. The cocktail menu will change every month, and there are already some collaborations in the works with other friend bartenders from around the world. The acceptance of the cocktail kits has been very encouraging, but the most positive outcome of this initiative, is the way clients have embraced the fact that they can have a high-end cocktail at home. Bartender apprentices at home are not only following the printed instructions that come with the kit, but also adding their personal touches, making this a true experience that is not only being enjoyed and shared at home, but through social media. “The response has been amazing, people are sharing their cocktails on social media, and they look amazing, people are really creating great cocktails at home, sharing them, and sending also kits to their friends. People are super excited, posting and promoting our cocktail kits.”
Of course, Bar-Lab, as the whole industry, has been economically impacted by the lock down, so all the revenues from this program are destined to pay the salaries of the people involved. For example, deliveries are being handled by the team, not by third party delivery platforms. After two weeks, they are already figuring out how to make this program bigger and better, going plastic free, and make it available outside of Miami. They understand that the new normal might look different, but they are positive that people will eventually start going out to restaurants and bars. However, even though Bar-Lab’s main business will still be operating brick and mortar bars, they want to maintain and grow the delivery business, and why not, take something positive out of this pandemic.
It is still too early to know what we will learn from this, or how it will shape our business and industry in the future, but there is no doubt that the way we face the COVID-19 crisis and the decisions we make to pivot our business now, will shape our business in the near future. This is the time to think of how our business will look like in the post-COVID era, even though we are all freezing in fear, trying to understand what just happened to us from a personal and professional perspective. This is the time for restaurants and chefs to get ready to jump back into business, with all the tools and experience gained during these hard times. Defining now what supplementary services will make up the lost revenues can be the difference between having a very slow start and pivot the business into a sustainable and profitable operation. We all know that the day that lock downs are lifted, not necessarily will mean that business will go back to normal. Some positive social outcomes are already evident from this situation, people have learned to cook more and better, and some has discovered the beauty of buying produce from a local market and prepare a fresh meal at home. But also, the widespread convenience of delivery will remain as part of our behavior, not to mention fear to get back to crowded places, and I am not talking about attending a massive concert or a football match, I am talking about going out for dinner at a small neighborhood restaurant with 40 people inside.