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Restaurant Delivery Goes From Side Hustle To Main Event

For many restaurants that had existing delivery options, refocusing on delivery has let them stay open, save jobs, and keep serving.

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Any restaurant staying in business during the pandemic is relying on delivery and takeout to reach customers. For those with at least a little experience in serving customers outside the dining room, it’s a little bit easier to cultivate a lifeline to loyal regulars and the community at large.

Photo: Courtesy Wexler’s Deli.

Michael Kassar
Co-owner, Wexler’s Deli, Los Angeles

We’re doing pretty well, considering. We have three locations. Our main one in Santa Monica is still open. Luckily, for the last few years we have concentrated on out-of-store sales. That’s the way the industry has already been going in terms of delivery apps, catering, nationwide shipping—all those sorts of things as people less and less want to leave their house to eat. They’d rather just stay home. Obviously, it’s a tough time for everyone. People that have been able to get on these apps and focus on out-of-store sales and see where the trends have been going for the last five years are a little more prepared.

We’re doing a lot of nationwide shipping. Another thing that’s so important during this time—if you have a place that’s frequented by locals, people from around the corner that eat with you all time, which is very much the case particularly at our Santa Monica operation. They’re still coming and getting stuff to-go. They’re still picking up a sandwich and a coffee. We still have people waking up on a Tuesday and they’re like, “Hey, what the hell am I going to do today? Maybe I’ll start my day with a bagel and lox from Wexler’s and walk over there.”

I have a lot of friends who don’t have fine dining operations, but they have quality quick-service restaurants similar to Wexler’s. In the last couple of weeks they’ve texted me, “Hey bro, how do I get on these apps?” They’re just starting now. It’s a little late to the game. We’re doing more delivery, obviously, because people are home and not wanting to go out. However, we’re not doing exponentially more because not everybody’s doing that. And more places are getting on the platforms now. There’s been more players in the last couple of weeks, which is why we haven’t done three times the amount. We’ve done 25 to 50 percent more, which is still great.

Photo: Courtesy Katz’s Deli.

Jake Dell
Owner, Katz’s Deli, New York

First off, we removed all the tables in the front. No chairs. Obviously I simply don’t need busboys in the same way. I don’t need a dishwasher. So we’ve switched to more of a delivery take-out model. We’ve always done that, but now there’s even more attention on delivery, more attention on shipping orders. We ship all over the country. We’re really just devoting our time and our energy towards those kinds of orders. Truthfully, it’s actually easier in some ways because we don’t have to be distracted by customers in front of us. So the same delivery system that we’ve always done here, we still do it. It’s just more of the same.

We did add some good-for-the-fridge-and-freezer types of items. You know, precut pounds of meat, frozen soups in smaller packages—things that maybe the customer doesn’t want to eat right away on the spot, but they want to make and eat later. We had a wholesale menu, and no one knew about it. We didn’t put it on our delivering apps. Now, given everything that’s happened, we figured we’d add those items too.

Photo: Courtesy Genghis Cohen.

Marc Rose & Med Abrous
Co-owners, Genghis Cohen, Los Angeles

MARC ROSE: Med and I have had to close down operations at seven of our eight places. The good news is that one of our businesses that’s still open is Genghis Cohen. Because it’s Chinese food and we’re able to do a pretty good takeout and delivery business, which we had even prior to this going on. So while losing the dining room we did have to furlough a percentage of employees, but we were able to keep about 65 percent of our staff employed and working. The beauty to me is that this was a restaurant that’s been in L.A. now for 36 years. So to get the community support and to see how much of a part of Los Angeles this is, so that we’re able to sustain and do business, is an absolutely astounding, special thing that we get to see every day. It feels really good.

MED ABROUS: The other day, a guy came in to pick up his food. I hadn’t seen him before, but apparently he has been ordering from Genghis for years and years. I thanked him for coming in to pick up his food, and he looked at me so seriously, like dead in the eye, and was like, “I want to make sure this place is still open when this is done.” It really struck a chord with our front-of-house staff that are fully masked and gloved and sitting in an empty restaurant because we can’t have people in there. So it’s these little moments that are keeping us going.

MARC: We felt like Genghis Cohen had an existing customer base that already liked to have this food delivered or taken out. It seemed like it was not even a transition—it’s something we can really focus our energies on, providing not only employment for people, but providing our energy towards that so we can maybe offer more food.

We’re working with an organization called Dine11, where we are able to provide some food to doctors and nurses at the hospitals. They can’t even get big large trays of food right now. They need individual containers. The Chinese to-go pail is the perfect individual container for someone to eat out of. So it’s been easier for us to do that and facilitate some help to Dine11 as well.