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East County Wednesday, Apr. 8, 2020 2 years ago

Survival in the bag for Lakewood Ranch restaurant

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Grove offers market to support customers, sustain employees.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

On a normal day, waitress Delilah Donoho would be checking on customers at her tables at Grove at Main Street at Lakewood Ranch, and Jacque Armstrong would be scheduling and overseeing banquets and special events in the restaurant’s ballroom.

On April 1, the women donned their black Grove uniforms, stood outside and placed paper bags filled with groceries into the trunks of their customers’ vehicles.

Grove’s new market service launched March 27. Grove General Manager Austin Harlow said more than 120 products — everything from milk and eggs to bleach and toilet paper — are available to customers. They can order online at GroveLWR.com and schedule pickup for the following day between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.

“Our goal is to keep our employees working and to service our community,” Harlow said.

Greg Campbell, the executive chef and director of operations for Grove and Pier 22, said his idea was to keep employees working, cover the

restaurants’ overhead expenses and service the public in a safe, responsible way.

“It’s a critical time,” Campbell said, noting customers don’t even have to roll down their car windows. “People are very stressed about going out to public places.”

Campbell said he normally has 240 full-time employees, plus about 60 part-time employees, for Grove and Pier 22 combined. When the mandated restaurant closures began, his staffing dropped to just 15 full-time workers. Since adding the market, he’s up to about 50.

Campbell saw how grocery stores were packed with customers competing for toilet paper, hand sanitizer, packages of chicken and other common grocery items.

Grove server Delilah Donoho delivers dry goods for customers using the restaurant's online market offering.

He said the customers were having difficulty practicing social distancing and finding the items they needed or desired. Grove had access to its suppliers, which typically sell products to restaurants and with the COVID-19 threat, have nowhere to ship products.

It was a way to leverage those connections to help his suppliers and his restaurants while meeting a community need.

“We decided, let’s start a market store,” Harlow said. “It’s not a food shortage problem. It’s a food distribution problem. All of our vendors are ready to go.”

Harlow said pricing is in line with specialty grocers, and Grove’s staff members are doing the work themselves, from being butchers to packing bags.

Harlow said most groceries can be used if they don’t sell. For example, leftover bananas can be baked into banana bread. Stems from asparagus and broccoli can be used to make vegetable stock. If beef does not sell, it can be cooked and reduced for a sauce for a meal for takeout orders.

“We never waste anything” Harlow said. “That’s our practice.”

Harlow said Grove is leaning on its experience for making operations efficient and also is learning grocery trends. For example, weekend pickups will be significantly higher than those on the following Monday or Tuesday.

Harlow said Grove is following the Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines regarding the coronavirus, checking employees’ temperatures before they can begin work, wearing gloves while processing orders and practicing social distancing.

Customers who use the service do not even get out of their car. They provide their vehicle’s make and model, and employees begin collecting their items as soon as they pull up. Pickups take anywhere from 15 seconds to one minute, Harlow said.

Harlow said he hopes other restaurants will follow suit.

“We want to be the model,” he said.

During the allocated pickup times, Grove customers also can pick up heated or cold, prepared family-style meals for takeout. Harlow said Grove has suspended its normal menu in lieu of a roughly 20-option, family-style menu that includes four-person meals, such as homemade meatloaf, lasagna, lemon chicken and chicken Marsala. Prices range from $10 to $24 for entrees, and sides also are available.

The market and family-style menu also is available at Pier 22, the Grove’s sister restaurant in Bradenton.

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