Coffee and tissue

‘Grocerants’ an added twist to keep restaurants in business

Ever thought of buying toilet paper and a Big Boy at the same time through the drive-thru window at Frisch’s? Believe it or not, it is possible.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in earnest in Ohio and stay-at-home protocols were put into place, suddenly restaurants were left without customers. Many scrambled to start takeout or delivery orders only. Some restaurants got even more creative. Recently on Ohio Farm Bureau’s Our Ohio Weekly radio program, a panel discussed how some restaurants modified their offerings and turned into “grocerants” during the COVID-19 crisis.

As of mid-April, Chris Ford, executive vice president of operations for Frisch’s, said more than 20,000 grocery items had been sold at the chain’s regional restaurants.

“We had our marketplace up in three days,” he said, and additional offerings included toilet paper, eggs and gallons of milk.

The idea to add grocery items was something the team at Frisch’s had been thinking about since November, even before the virus was on anyone’s radar. Suddenly, it made perfect sense.

“We didn’t price these items to make a huge profit,” Ford said. “We did the best we could to just offer products for our guests.”

Supplying customers with what they need via an e-commerce platform is something Stephan Harman and his partners at FUSIAN Sushi had been thinking about for the last three years. The current pandemic expedited the process.

“We are happy we spent the energy there,” Harman said. “(During COVID-19) we need to keep feeding people, keep people at home, but also keep small business in business.”

The grocerant started with adding an option to purchase the restaurant’s produce whole and proceeded into other staples such as bread, eggs, bananas and oranges, among other things.

Stauf’s Coffee Roasters President Mark Swanson said the transparency with his customers since the COVID-19 pandemic began has been key to the success of Stauf’s Coffee Roasters’ grocerant concept. Keeping up with sanitation protocols helped establish customer confidence when the business started thinking outside the box.

“It was a really odd pivot when our CFO said ‘Why don’t we sell items we have in the back of the house?’” Swanson said. So, that is what Stauf’s started to do — whole bean coffee, teas and more are available on its website. 

When restaurants reopened in May, they did so slowly and with a different capacity. Restaurant owners and operators will continue to think of different and unique ways to serve their customers.