From restaurant to general store overnight
Anthony Strong, chef and owner of Prairie in the Mission, strongly supports social distancing and flattening the curve, so he knew he was going to have to end dinner service even before the city mandated it, but he also felt that as someone in the hospitality business, he wanted to find a way to adapt and provide for his employees and community to fit the changing needs.
After seeing pictures online of all of the bare shelves in grocery stores, Strong decided to temporarily convert his space into a general store. “I think the default direction right now is to close down and save every penny that you have, but I figured at the very least if this was going to hurt, I could feed some people, get them some groceries, and give large grocery chains a run for the money. We have access to products and goods at wholesale prices, so I went to Whole Foods and looked at every shelf that was bare, placed my orders accordingly, and flipped the restaurant into a general store.”
The main dining room is now a stockroom and the Campfire Room, a private dining space that Strong just spent time and money upgrading, is now a showroom. (See a tour here.) “We have pretty much everything you need and it is all either/or shelf-stable, ready-to-eat, and unhandled. We’ve got dinner kits, pantry kits, and other goods, like pre-packaged Mary’s chickens, pastas, pasta sauces, toilet paper, hand towels, and spray sanitizer, and most of our stuff is in bulk, so you’re not getting a cute little thing of almonds, you’re getting a two-pound bag of Marcona almonds. (See a full list of what’s available here.)
In order to ensure everyone’s safety, only two people are allowed into the shop at once. “You come in, fill out an order sheet, give it to a staff member, and we box it up for you. That way we don’t have a bunch of people in the space looking at things on shelves and touching it,” Strong says. “We’re also pricing it just below retail; we beat anything you can find online.” You can also pre-order online and pick up your box later. The shop will be open every day from noon to 8pm.
Besides giving people in the community access to food, this has also allowed Strong to keep all of his employees. “I haven’t laid one person off and I don’t plan to. Our bartender is packing boxes, our servers are ringing people up, and our cooks are pre-packaging and stocking. I’m just trying to give everybody everything we can and keep people on the health insurance that are on it.”
Is Strong worried about this at all? He says that yes, he’s worried about things as a whole, but that he’s going to do everything he can to give his employees work and hold onto the business he worked so hard to build. “Maybe it’s the scrappy little punk rocker in me, but I’m not about to take this shit.”