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Fort Worth area restaurants offering grocery items during virus outbreak

March 29,2020

See full Fort Worth Business Press article by Marice Richter here.

It didn’t take long for Gigi Howell and her staff at 203 Café in downtown Fort Worth to jump on the opportunity to bring in some extra revenue and provide a little convenience for customers.

Now anyone who orders breakfast or lunch for delivery, pick-up or carryout and can also purchase an “essentials package” that includes a dozen eggs, a gallon of two percent milk and a loaf of wheat bread for $12.95.

In the first few days of its debut, the grocery staples package has been extremely popular, said Howell, general manager of the Sundance Square café located in the old Fort Worth Fire Station No. 1 building.

“We’re selling the items that are most popular,” Howell said. “People love that they can pick up a meal to go and skip the grocery store if all they need is a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread.”

But 203 Café isn’t the only Fort Worth area eatery to shift from popular dining spots to combo restaurant and pantry markets.

Other local restaurants have come up with their own innovative ways to boost their bottom line and lure patrons in with incentives and one-stop convenience. Some are even tossing in a free roll of toilet paper with an order.

Restaurants wasted little time ramping up grocery staples sales after Gov. Greg Abbott authorized the move and the Texas Department of State Health Services issued guidelines for restaurants to sell groceries on March 24.

Among the rules, food sold must be in its original condition, packaging or offered for sale as it was received for use by the restaurant.

“Restaurants are the leaders in food safety across Texas and are experts at keeping people safe while operating and adhering to guidelines around food receiving, food storage and food handling,” Emily Williams Knight, CEO of the Texas Restaurant Association (TRA) said in a statement.

About 1.4 million people are employed in about 50,000 restaurants across the state. Since state restrictions on operations due to the COVID-19 outbreak, about 2 percent of the state’s restaurants have closed permanently, 32 percent have closed temporarily, and 12 percent of operators say they anticipate closing within the 30 days, according to research by the National Restaurant Association.

“Restaurants are in a fight for survival,” Knight said. “By all indications, the staggering losses in jobs, restaurant operations and economic impact continues to accelerate.”

Texas restaurants operators reported a 43 percent decline in sales and a $1.8 billion loss between March 1 and March 22, according to the TRA.

To help offset the losses, restaurants are selling items such as packaged meat, fruit and vegetables and dry goods for consumers to use at home.

With many items in short supply in grocery stores due to hoarding and panic buying, consumers skip the crowds at the grocery store if they only need a few items.

Many of the products being offered for sale by restaurants come from major supply chain distributors such as Sysco and Ben E. Keith.

Some restaurants such as Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse and Del Frisco’s Grille are offering selections of meats, produce, herbs and dairy products that rival grocery stores. Items include all cuts of steak to lamb, many types of fish and seafood as well as chicken and bacon.

Vegetable offerings include fresh corn, varieties of lettuce, mushrooms, onions, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes. Milk, eggs, cream, butter and a large selection of cheese round out the dairy offerings.

Other restaurants are offering a combination of packaged goods and their own prepared and packaged items on their pantry menus.

Four Sisters – Taste of Vietnam is selling produce, filet mignon, eggs and Chinese sausage along its in-house scratch-made tofu, wing sauce, rice noodles (Pho), egg coffee, Four Sisters brand coffee and fry butter and other products.

“This is something we can do as a convenience for our customers,” said owner and operator Tuan Pham. “It’s one-stop shopping for customers who want some of our specialty items and necessities.”

By picking up some of the restaurant’s signature products, many customers are able to prepare their own meals at home.

“It has boosted sales and that has helped us a lot,” Pham said.

Other restaurants are selling meal kits and boxes that include all the staples to prepare a meal.

The Meat Board, a combination butcher shop and deli that offers signature sandwiches at lunchtime, is selling its Premium Protein Pack of raw meats, including two rib-eye steaks, two strip steaks, two tenderloin filets, two pounds of ground chuck, three chicken breasts along with thick-cut smoked bacon and jalapeno cheddar sausage.

“We’ve had a lot of people come in because they have heard about it from friends,” said Julia Rauschuber, marketing manager. The Meat Board is also stocking hard-to-find staples like toilet paper and sliced bread, she said.

Ellerbe Fine Foods has been selling produce via Farmers' Market co-op boxes.

In addition to restaurants selling groceries, Austin-based liquor store chain Spec’s is also selling many grocery staples, including meat, cheese, pasta, canned goods and chips. Spec’s has seven locations in Tarrant County and more than 20 stores across North Texas.

The COVID-19 Outbreak Impact on Texas Restaurants:

• 64% percent of restaurant operators laid-off employees. 58% percent anticipate doing more of this during the next 30 days.

• 78% percent of operators cut employee hours.

• 69% percent of operators reduced their hours of operation.

• 60% percent of operators temporarily changed their business model to off-premises only.

Source: Texas Restaurant Association


Locations Mentioned: 203 Café, Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House, Del Frisco's Grille