Alumni business innovation during stay-at-home order

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Photo courtesy of Yelp

With the reopening of restaurants, small businesses around the whole Dallas community will receive great relief. The University News explored the effects of the pandemic and the stay-at-home order over that recent period of barriers. 

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins issued an official stay-at-home order effective March 23, 11:59 p.m., announcing the mandatory close of all non-essential businesses. In the announcement, the requirements for qualifying as an essential business are listed at length.  Many shops have been able to stay open, but they have been forced to change their daily operations significantly, sometimes greatly affecting their revenue.  

Many businesses have been looking to supplement lost revenue in new and innovative ways — expanding their clientele or selling products relevant to the current common experiences of the consumers.

Lamberti’s Ristorante and Wine Bar in Irving, a sole proprietorship, is a prime example of a business that is making innovative changes.  

Owner and UD alumnus David Lamberti explained that from its founding, Lamberti’s has tried different revenue strains.  Like many restaurants, they normally have both in-house and out-of-house services, but with the stay-at-home order, Lamberti’s in-house service was completely suspended.  

Lamberti said that due to these cuts, the restaurant is trying to work its way back up to sustainability. 

Working towards that through innovation and the support from the surrounding community, the out-of-house revenue has increased by around 400% as of April 3.

“We’re a little bit more nimble since we are an independent restaurant,” Lamberti said. “It gives us an opportunity to see what the need of the community is and try to respond to that [quickly].”.  

On March 30, they launched Lamberti’s Market, a place to shop, order and purchase both prepared food off the menu and numerous wholesale foods online.  

“We have access to a lot of wholesale things that the normal consumer might not,” Lamberti said.“We’re not making huge margins on that product; we’re just trying to pass it through to supply that level of pricing. That’s one way we have morphed into what the community needs, and as a way also to try to stay in a competitive edge in regards to places who are not willing to do that.”

Lamberti expressed concern that the services of the restaurant wouldn’t be seen by all, as he said, “[To have your voice heard is] always a fight in this world of everybody else trying to drown out the independent guys.”

Even in this slow market, the focus is not on the maximization of profit, but responding to the needs of the community. Lamberti believes that listening and responding will do the most good for the restaurant and the people. 

“So far the community has been very generous to us, and we intend to continue to serve them.”

Restaurants are not the only type of establishment being affected by the stay-at-home order.

Celestial Beerworks, a local microbrewery in Dallas run by Matt Reynolds and UD alumna Molly Reynolds, is another prime example

Due to the stay-at-home order, they were forced to stop distributing to restaurants and bars and pouring beers in their tap room. However, they quickly found new ways to make up the loss. 

“We were able to take a lot of inventory that we had kegged to be served at the bar and just turn it into cans. We’ve been pretty fortunate,” Matt Reynolds said. “We’re selling a larger volume per person versus if someone were to come in and buy one drink at the bar … We’ve still been able to keep producing like normal.”

Molly Reynolds explained how they set up a table by their front door to sell canned and bottled beverages.  They receive orders online for pick-up and also accept walk-up customers.

“Certainly our margins are not nearly as good as, you know, pouring beer straight to a cup and handing it over, because now we have to worry about all that beer going into cans and the time to can it, and the lids, and the labels.”

Unfortunately for microbreweries, being able to keep up standard production is far from a normal thing in these times,Molly Reynolds said. It is only because of their canning line, a machine that can automatically produce packs of canned brews ready for sale, that they have been able to keep up sales.

“We’re thinking of all our friends who have breweries. They have little [machines] — they’re called Crowler machines — [that] you have to do one can at a time by hand,” Molly Reynolds said sympathetically. “Or, they don’t even have that and they’re having to completely close down.”

Prior to the pandemic changes, the Reynolds had already established themselves as a seller of canned beer in addition to being a taproom, often having customers come in for a drink at the bar and leave with a six-pack. This diversity is the main factor they attribute their current sustainability to. 

They also created and have sold black print t-shirts, as seen on their Facebook page, with a joke about physical distancing at six feet apart.

“We just wanted to, more as a joke than anything else, pay respect and recognize what’s going on — recognize the feelings that people might be having,” Molly Reynolds said. “We wanted to kind of do it tongue and cheek, kind of to make people smile” without completely making light of it, offering something with a little happier spin in this time.”

Matt Reynolds reported in an email on April 6 that, unlike many businesses throughout America, their brewery did not intend to apply for any loans, though they were open to the possibility down the line.

“We are mostly concerned for our 9 employees that rely on us to pay their bills,” Matt Reynolds wrote in an email. “It seems as though the PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] loan would allow us to make sure our staff is paid if the virus really begins to disrupt our business more than it already has.”

As independent businesses are forced to get innovative to combat these pandemic threats, businesses are also receiving more attention from the average consumer, according to Lamberti. 

“Obviously whenever there’s diversity and disaster …  it’s interesting to see how the community changes its focus … to supporting their own and the small businesses,” Lamberti said. “That was cool to see for us, but also interesting because you wonder, say on a Friday night in a normal world, are you going to Pappadeaux, or the Olive Garden, or do you remember the small business in that moment? Are you really supporting the people that mean the most to you in normal times?”

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