When Jack Parrish, owner of Charlotte bakery chain Sunflour Baking Company, first heard about a stay-at-home order that was to take effect in Mecklenburg County on March 26, his first thought was, “Oh shit.”
After learning more about the order and how he’d be able to continue carry-out and delivery service, he put things in perspective and decided, “We can do that.”
Parrish said that after the first month of the crisis, business in his four Mecklenburg locations is about half of what it was before the pandemic, which he believes is better than many other local businesses but not sustainable in the long run.
He never did close down, though about one-third of his 70 employees left during the first week of the order, citing health concerns such as asthma or parental orders. Parrish cut closing time from 7 to 4 p.m. and shifted workers around as needed, then got to work as a newly adjusted takeout spot.
When he learned of a new Instagram program meant to help the restaurant industry that launched on April 15, he immediately jumped onboard. The program offers an addition to Instagram Stories that includes an “Order Now” feature, along with stickers for food delivery and gift cards. Tapping the stickers takes customers to a website where they can complete their order.
“The whole point is to make it easy and convenient. By having that sort of ready-to-go feature, you can stick it on any story. It’s similar to adding a link to your story, but it’s got a very unique look. People know what it is — ‘Oh hey, Sunflour — and they push the button,” Parrish said. “The Order Now buttons on our story have been a real bonus and it’s something that we are going to continue to do for sure. When something new comes along, I definitely want to embrace it.”
He’s also received support from the local community by way of CLT Strong, a GoFundMe page that provides 100 meals a day to restaurant and health-care workers, while also giving local restaurants much-needed income.
Parrish regularly talks with others in the local food scene, and though he finally found out this week that he will receive money from the U.S. Small Business Association Paycheck Protection Program, he knows that many won’t.
He has also filed an application with a bank he does business with for a small business loan and is currently waiting to hear back about it. He recently hired a few new employees to help keep up with the weekend rush, though weekdays are still quiet.
Despite the recent slate of relatively good news, he knows things won’t be going back at to normal at Sunflour anytime soon.
“My view is it’s a different world now,” he said. “This is kind of a preview of the future. There is going to be a lot more delivery than there was before. People are not going to want to go out and sit in restaurants. I don’t think anything is going to be the same for restaurants. I think until there is a vaccine it’s going to look a lot like it looks now in one degree or another. Even after that, people’s habits will have changed by then.”
Looking forward, Parrish said he’ll do what he can to make customers feel comfortable if and when they are ready and able to return. “Cleanliness is going to be a really big thing for customers in order to get them comfortable. The other thing is spacing, and we tend to get pretty busy and a lot of people pack in, so we’re going to have to take out some tables and chairs and spread it out a little bit.”
In the meantime, he’s taking lessons learned today to help him adapt his business model for the Charlotte of tomorrow.
“What we’re doing is settling into how are we going to be a delivery powerhouse? How are we going to make carryout more efficient?” he said. “If you can’t make it work now, you’re not going to make it work down the road. You can bet it’s going to be different down the road. I don’t know exactly how, but it’s going to be different.”
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