COVID-19 precluding restaurants from hosting customers for sit-down meals has driven owners to get creative and restructure their businesses in a hurry to adapt to the current situation.
Buena Onda Empanadas has done just that in a number of different ways. Filling delivery and takeout orders are of course the simplest alternatives to having customers eat empanadas at the restaurant’s State Street and Haley Street locations, and co-owner Matias Requena Mackinlay said the latter has always been a significant part of his family’s business since its Argentinian pastries are small and easily for customers to take on the road.
“Our business was always kind of set up for takeout fortunately,” he stated.
Although Buena Onda has increased sit-down dining over the past year and a half, Mr. Mackinlay told the News-Press that a majority of the eatery’s business model is based on takeout and catering. Of course, COVID-19 has brought sit-down dining to a standstill and all of the events the restaurant was scheduled to cater have been cancelled. The co-owner commented that losing catering particularly hurts the restaurant’s business as it accounts for so much of its revenue.
“Last year it was 40% of our gross sales,” he said.
That said, the kind of food that Buena Onda served when catering remains on the restaurant’s menu in the form of family meals that customers can prepare by reheating. With portions that would feed between two and four people, the family meals include lasagna and parmigiana. Though one would recognize these as Italian rather than Argentinian, Mr. Mackinlay said their place in the Buena Onda’s menu reflects the prominent Italian influence in his country of birth.
“We have a lot of Italian influence in Argentinian culture, so we try to bring a lot of that in,” Mr. Mackinlay said.
On top of switching it’s Italian-influenced catered fare to family-sized meals for takeout and delivery, Buena Onda has come up with an entirely new empanada option that’s well suited for these days of self-quarantining: Frozen empanadas. This new addition is so well suited to the situation, it turns out, that it is currently the restaurant’s biggest seller.
“Due to COVID-19 it makes sense that people want to stay home and bake on their own time, so it’s doing really well for that reason,” Mr. Mackinlay said.
Prior to the pandemic, Buena Onda didn’t have much of a delivery system to speak of. It had no in-house system and relied on third party services such as DoorDash and Grubhub. When the pandemic forced the restaurant to tighten its financial belt however, Mr. Mackinlay and his family determined that the business could no longer afford to keep giving Grubhub and DoorDash the large cut of revenue that they ask for their services. At the very least, not as often. To offset some of those costs, they decided to start having Buena Onda employees perform deliveries during two windows of time every week, Wednesdays and Fridays between 3 to 7 p.m. Of course, the deliverers observe social distancing by doing contact-free delivery.
While Buena Onda’s business setup may make it more conducive to weathering the coronavirus storm than restaurants that are dependent on sit-down dining, Mr. Mackinlay has had to cut employee hours, albeit not drastically. Like countless other small business owners, he has applied for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. However, the program ran out of funds before Buena Onda could receive its share of stimulus money and Mr. Mackinlay is currently waiting for whenever a second round of funding can be mustered. Receiving PPP money to help his business at this time is his chief concern, and the owner admitted that waiting for it has left him feeling extremely frustrated. Whenever restrictions on on-premises dining end up getting lifted, Mr. Mackinlay anticipates 2020 to be a “rough year” that will be something of an ultimate test for Buena Onda. As he sees it, Buena Onda making it through this period will make it prepared for just about any challenge the post-coronavirus world throws at his business.
“I think if we make it through this patch we’ll make it through anything,” he said.