We’re about a month into the Coronavirus crisis that has crippled the restaurant industry. Practically overnight, restaurant owners had to figure out how to support their staff, pay their bills and feed their families and customers. I own a restaurant supplies delivery service and a month ago we were faced with a warehouse full of food and perishables and massive orders that were suddenly cancelled.
We all had to act quickly. Our customers had to decide between closing their doors or staying open for takeout and delivery; and we had to decide what we could do to help these restaurant owners and food entrepreneurs whom I have grown so close to throughout my entire life. We immediately started reaching out to see how we could help.
Story after story revealed the devastating effects of coronavirus on those in the restaurant industry. We teamed up with Kostas Lazanas of Opa! Greek Taverna in Dallas, to film and edit a video documentary series that would profile independent restaurant owners across the country. Each episode is promoted across our combined social networks using hashtags #TooSmallToFail and #Cheetah4You, and spotlights a different restaurant owner sharing their personal struggles during this crisis.
Beto & Sons Recovers – The Power of Video and Community
The series began with Chef Julian Rodarte of Beto & Son in Dallas, a family owned Mexican restaurant that is typically packed every day. After the collapse, Julian and his father were unable to hold onto their employees. What was once a staff of 80 was now crushed down to just the two family members plus a few others that they could manage to pay that day. The future seemed inevitably grim: they would have to close their doors. The thriving business Beto & Son knew just weeks before was gone.
Once the Cheetah4You video above premiered on March 21, things started to change for Julian. The community was now aware of how they could help by ordering takeout and buying gift cards. Orders began to rush in and soon Beto & Son was able to hire back 20 members of their staff and hope revealed itself for Julian and his father.
Offering Wholesale Food and Supplies to Those In Need
There is no hiding the damaging effects of COVID-19 for the world. My goal was to do my best to support the restaurant industry in this surreal time, but I also had to quickly figure out what to do with the excess food and supplies that were going to waste. The week prior to the “shelter-in-place” shutdown in California, we pivoted our business model to help local residents and small businesses in the Bay Area get their essential foods and supplies. In this time of uncertainty, it is vital to work together with our local communities.
We are now offering ordering of bulk food and supplies through the Cheetah mobile app, which has been modified to service consumers as well as businesses. When an order is placed, customers can choose their nearest pickup location for fulfillment the following day. Inventory is updated in real-time so customers know that what they order will be available for pickup. Our first two locations were the Cheetah headquarters in San Francisco and our warehouse in Pleasanton, CA.
Hugo Sanchez is the owner of an ice cream parlor in the Bay area called La Michoacana. He also has two premature twins at home. His ice cream shop is closed but he used Cheetah to get food and supplies for his family, because he is “terrified to go outside”. Using a restaurant delivery service rather than traveling to a grocery store has helped him and his family.
This is a critical reminder to protect the health and safety of our family and friends – especially those who are high risk. Echoed by Dr. Deborah Birx during last week's White House press briefing: "The next two weeks are extraordinarily important… This is the moment to not be going to the grocery store, not going to the pharmacy, but doing everything you can to keep your family and your friends safe."
We are hoping to ease some of the tension that people are feeling over COVID-19, which is why we made the switch to offering our supplies to the general public as well.
As for restaurant owners, margins are already small so the only way these businesses can survive is from the sale of food. That being said, Fred Parker, owner of Costa De Sol, was able to get creative. He currently has two locations, one in San Jose, CA that was opened 10 years ago, and another in Santa Clara, CA opened just two years ago. Fred decided to close the Santa Clara location for a few weeks at the start of the pandemic because it was primarily a lunch spot for people who worked nearby. What he didn’t anticipate was how hard it would be to come back after three weeks of being closed.
"Before the crisis we were in the top five rankings on DoorDash and Uber Eats," said Parker. "When we closed the Santa Clara location, it showed us as closed in the app so we missed out on a lot of orders. Now that we are re-opened, we have to try and get our rankings back up, otherwise no one will know that we are open. Delivery services have doubled since the outbreak, but we missed out on that opportunity for three weeks, so now we are playing catch-up."
Meanwhile Cheetah’s decision to go direct-to-consumer was taking off. Groups of neighbors, communities, retirement homes, churches and synagogues, were all ordering food and supplies through Cheetah for next day pickup. But we only had two locations in the Bay area.
Cheetah made Fred an offer: Turn your parking lot into a Santa Clara pickup spot for Cheetah customers. With nothing to lose, Fred was on board.
It has only been a few days, but his Santa Clara location is back open with two-to-three employees rehired and Fred is able to help his community, as well as promote his lesser known location. Some Cheetah customers are getting Salvadoran Pupusas from Costa de Sol during pickups, while others are ordering takeout from Fred through Door Dash and UberEats. As sales are increasing and his presence is growing, Fred hopes to rehire more employees shortly for both locations.
Our reach has made it to restaurants across the country and we hope to help more during this crisis.
If you have a story you want to share in the Cheetah4You documentary series, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.