The COVID-19 pandemic and strict “shelter in place” orders have caused North Texas restaurants to shutter their doors to in-house dining and shift to take-out and delivery only. As a result, many restaurants are bringing in a fraction of the revenue they are accustomed to, forcing them to furlough the majority of their staff. Now local favorites are getting creative with the services they provide, and Front Burner Restaurant Group is leading the way.
Based in Plano, Front Burner operates local favorites such as Legacy Food Hall, Haywire, Ida Claire, Mexican Sugar, and the Keeper. They’re also responsible for Sixty Vines, Whiskey Cake, Velvet Taco, and other eateries that have found homes in various cities across the country. When the restaurants were ordered to close a couple of weeks ago, owners Randy DeWitt and Jack Gibbons, along with some of their key restaurant employees, quickly devised a plan that went beyond offering their standard menu items for take-out.
Introducing Quarantine Survival Kits: a load of items that included menu favorites and hard-to-find essentials like eggs and rolls of toilet paper. Some include take-and-bake options and others are fully cooked. For example, Sixty Vines last week offered a survival kit that included two marinated chicken breasts, salad, bread, spicy brussels sprouts, pre-cooked pasta with red sauce, pre-cooked pasta with mushroom fregola, a DIY pizza kit, 12 eggs and a roll of toilet paper. They’re also offering all wine to go at half price.
“The management team at one of our Houston Whiskey Cake restaurants created the first kit on the day we closed our dining rooms and went to curbside,” DeWitt said. “They wisely put a roll of toilet paper in it and it took off immediately. We had the program working in all of our restaurants three days later.”
Mexican Sugar is selling their signature margaritas in pitchers to go, along with their “Cuarentina Kits” that include everything you need to make your own fajitas, cilantro rice and beans, chips and salsa, a dozen eggs, a gallon of milks, and two rolls of toilet paper.
Haywire employees are bringing a Texas-themed experience to their new curbside drive-thru line, donning cowboy boots and cowboy hats and serving up chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, rolls, a slice of pecan pie and a bottle of whiskey. You can also pick up cigars and their signature Mason Jar drinks.
Whiskey Cake, Ida Claire and The Ranch at Las Colinas are also offering their own Quarantine Kits. Car lines form outside of each restaurants and restaurant employees, wearing gloves, bring the kits to customers’ cars.
“Curbside service is safer than going to the grocery store right now,” Gibbons said. “We’re following the CDC’s instructions on social distancing very closely to make sure we are in compliance.”
Front Burner’s mission is to keep the community fed and restaurant staff employed. Quarantine Kits are purposefully sold at a discounted price – the low margins and busy restaurants allow Front Burner to bring its employees back to work. In fact, sales increased enough at Haywire that they were able to bring three employees back. They’ve also been providing one free meal each day to their furloughed employees.
This week, they furthered their mission by partnering with CitySquare and Vestals Catering to launch a nonprofit called Furlough Kitchen, which offers free meals to any hospitality worker who has been furloughed. Meals are served from noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday at 4318 Eastside Avenue in Dallas. The team brought the organization to life in less than one week with the help of creative partners Conal Cronin Love, The R Circle and Leonard Sloan, and cash donors like The Boston Beer Company, Republic National Distributing, The Weitzman Group and Alliance Payroll.
“Our mission at Front Burner Restaurants is to create new concepts that serve the unmet needs in the communities where we live,” DeWitt said. “Why couldn’t we create a new brand to serve the need of furloughed restaurant workers and operate it as a 90-day pop-up?”
Furlough Kitchen is also bringing previously furloughed Front Burner restaurant employees back to work by offering them jobs at the nonprofit, which operates off of contributions from companies and individuals. With the current donations, Furlough Kitchen is prepared to serve 1,000 meals per day for the next 90 days, but they hope to continue operating the nonprofit a long as the hospitality industry and the community are in need.
Visit furloughkitchen.org to help feed your community.