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With the District and the country under a state of emergency, would-be restaurant and bar patrons are practicing recommended social distancing as they try to flatten the curve of coronavirus cases. As a result, small businesses have to adapt or risk not making it out of this public health crisis.
Some, including Maialino Mare and Anchovy Social in Navy Yard, Momofuku CCDC in CityCenter DC, and All Souls in Shaw have opted to close temporarily. Chef José Andrés closed all of his D.C.-area restaurants Sunday. Some of them will reopen as “community kitchens” on March 17. The community kitchens will serve affordable “plates of the day” for take-out only.
Other restaurants, bars, breweries, and distilleries are finding unconventional ways to stay connected with customers and keep some money trickling in as they wait to see if they’ll receive some form of assistance from the government, banks, or landlords.
By City Paper’s count, close to 50 local restaurants or restaurant groups have sent out communications mentioning their hand sanitizing stations, how they’re spacing tables further apart, or how they’re training their staff to clean more often and stay home when they’re sick. These measures don’t support social distancing. Some businesses are more focused on reaching customers outside of their dining rooms or storefronts. Others have altered their operations to become a new kind of resource for neighbors and the hard-hit hospitality industry.
Most enterprises are focused on finding ways for Washingtonians to enjoy their products at home. “Right now it’s all about pivoting hard,” says Denizens Brewing Company co-founder Julie Verratti. She and her wife, Emily Bruno, operate two Maryland breweries with head brewer and partner Jeff Ramirez—one in Silver Spring and another in Riverdale Park.
Today, the brewery launches the Denizens Beermobile. It has a cute name and an even cuter graphic featuring an antique truck with a beer flag flapping in the breeze. “It’s not an actual truck,” Verratti admits. “It’s just going to be me and Emily making deliveries, to be totally honest with you.”
Denizens has always had the license to deliver beer, but never bothered taking advantage of it because their taprooms were full and orders from area restaurants and bottle shops were steady. “We never pulled the trigger on it because we never needed to,” Verratti says.
Orders placed before 2 p.m. using this form will be delivered between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. that night. Customers can purchase six-packs of six different Denizens beers. Orders must be a minimum of $20 and a $5 delivery fee will be charged. A valid ID is required at drop-off and Denizens requests that people bring their own pens to sign the check.
Denizens can currently only deliver in Maryland in the immediate vicinity of its two breweries. Someone already tried to order from Annapolis, but Verratti says that’s not feasible. Denizens is directing those in D.C. and Virginia to order their Denizens beer for delivery through Craft Beer Cellar DC.
Delivery and take-out are lifelines for many restaurants right now. But both are best suited for more casual restaurants. Places that typically call for diners to luxuriate over tasting menus or lavish meals lasting several hours typically don’t offer pick-up or appear on UberEats or Caviar. That’s changing too.
Tonight, Kinship will begin selling “In The Spirit of Kinship” to-go meals on Friday and Sunday evenings through April. The first one is lasagna, a side salad, and garlic bread for $25. Meals at Kinship usually cost four times that amount per person. It’s inspired by one of the dishes Chef Eric Ziebold had during staff meal at The French Laundry. Guests can pick up their meal between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Fridays and Sundays. Free chicken soup will also be available.
Filipino hotspot Bad Saint is offering a to-go menu Sundays through Thursdays from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Dishes include pancit using house-made noodles with bok choy and Calabrian chile for $26 and beef empanadas for $9. Down the block in Columbia Heights, Queen’s English will pack up a take-out menu for two people for $52, which includes soy braised enoki mushrooms, Chinese broccoli, pork collar, and jook (similar to congee) with XO sauce and sea urchin. Customers can text orders to 757-301-1889.
Reverie chef and owner Johnny Spero is already packing up two of his biggest sellers for customers to pick up in Georgetown. His gourmet cheeseburger costs $18 and the whole duck platter, which can feed several people, costs $115. The duck, wrapped in a tinfoil swan, comes with a duck confit sandwich and shaved fennel salad. “The idea is especially right now there are people that are scared to go out,” Spero says. “If they still want to enjoy something and not live off of instant ramen packets, we can still provide something—the two dishes that are the most fun and speak to who Reverie is.”
Pom Pom is also boxing up its burger ($15) and duck platter, plus a few other dishes. The Petworth restaurant’s duck dish comes with herb salad, coconut jasmine rice, and duck “pho” jus ($59 for half a duck, $100 for a whole duck). Call the restaurant to find out what else is available for pick-up.
When you go to Pom Pom to pick up a to-go meal, you will be able to stock up on some essentials starting Tuesday. “I’m trying to sell anything I can sell,” says owner Carlie Steiner. Restaurants are in the position to order food and supplies from wholesalers instead of going to grocery stores where shelves are looking sparse.
“We’re going to match grocery store prices as much as we can,” Steiner says. Available items include eggs, milk, potatoes, chicken, bottled water, wine (uncorked at the restaurant, per D.C. law), and toilet paper. Pom Pom recently added daytime hours so you can pick up meals or supplies starting at noon daily. Cork Wine Bar & Market on 14th Street NW is taking a similar approach by offering customers who purchase a bottle of wine a free roll of toilet paper.
Some hospitality industry businesses are shifting their focus to helping their own. Republic Restoratives, a women-owned distillery in Ivy City, issued a statement addressed to food and beverage professionals committing to a number of initiatives including launching online cocktail classes they’ll be hiring bartenders to lead; increasing the industry discount at their bar to 50 percent; producing their own hand cleaner they’ll give out for free; and committing to paying their bills to small businesses first.
Hook Hall in Park View is angling to become a hub for the hospitality industry as workers struggle through the next couple of weeks or months. Saturday, owner Anna Valero announced a new initiative called Hook Hall Helps that should be in full swing by Monday.
It’s focused on distributing care kits and offering professional development opportunities to people who are out of work or working reduced hours. “Although hospitality industry workers are the ones most immediately and quickly affected by this crisis, they’re also the ones predisposed to [want to] help,” Valero says.
As the coronavirus news was unfolding last weekend, most bartenders, servers, and cooks were at work and didn’t have the same opportunity as others to go grocery shopping, according to Valero. Hook Hall is partnering with FoodPro and Sysco to fill the kits with shelf-stable foods and paper goods, such as peanut butter, toilet paper, packaged soup, granola bars, trail mix, cereal, and coffee.
While the kits will only be available to hospitality industry members to start, Valero hopes to make kits available to the greater public, including students who had to leave their college campuses, in the future.
There will also be a full slate of free programming posted on the Hook Hall Helps website. Plans include TIPS and ServeSafe trainings; yoga and meditation classes; and presentations from experts like sommeliers and cicerones.
Hook Hall, a vast space, reduced its capacity to 250 people following Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Friday decree banning gatherings of more than 250 people. But they’ve expanded their hours to give their staff more hours. “Previously we were dark on Mondays and wouldn’t open until happy hour time on weekdays. Now we’re going to open early in the morning around 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. and stay open until 10 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.”
Are you a food or beverage business trying something new during this challenging period? Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. City Paper will continue to update this story.