To stay afloat during a pandemic is something no one could be prepared for — least of all, local restaurants.
The support of the community is important for any local business. And with Californians ordered to stay home to slow down the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus, getting that support has become increasingly difficult.
Marge Cafarelli, owner of the Santa Barbara Public Market, did not mince words when asked if she were concerned about the current landscape of the restaurant/food industry.
“I am worried,” Ms. Cafarelli told the News-Press.
“I am definitely worried because these are small businesses that need to do business.”
On March 17, amid some awful conditions, Ms. Cafarelli made a decision to close the market for the foreseeable future.
She then looked for a way to help all nine of her vendors stay afloat during this trying time.
It only took two days for Ms. Cafarelli to come up with a turnaround. She partnered with Restaurant Connection, a Santa Barbara company specializing in restaurant delivery since 1989, to deliver high-quality food to local customers.
Food by any vendor at the Santa Barbara Public Market is available for pickup or delivery from noon to 3 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. daily. And even if you order from all nine restaurants, there is still only one delivery charge. (See the FYI box for instructions.)
“We have had an overwhelming response to our pivot where people could get things from all our different vendors in one delivery, and I think that they feel a little bit of normalcy because of that,” Ms. Cafarelli said.
“In business, you have to be ready to pivot in any moment to meet the changing demands,” she said. “That’s just what being in business is about.
“We really wanted to figure out a way to keep people operating, even on a limited scale, so I worked with Saul (Plasencia, chairman and co-CEO) at Restaurant Connection. And he really worked around the clock because he’s got programmers that are working all the time in order to set our situation up.
“It’s been a bit hectic for sure, but business is all about looking at those moments when you have to pivot and how you can continually be relevant, and that’s what we’ve tried to do here,” Ms. Cafarelli said.
The Santa Barbara Public Market is not the only one that has had to make this pivot.
In fact, every Santa Barbara restaurant has changed to delivery or pickup options to stay afloat, including Los Agaves.
“We are fortunate that we have the ability to still offer our food-to-go. And (we) encourage the community to order to-go or delivery from all local restaurants that have the ability to offer it during this difficult period,” Los Agaves owner Carlos Luna told the News-Press via email. “At this time our De La Vina (Street) and Goleta locations are open for takeout, curbside service or offer delivery through Restaurant Connection and DoorDash,”
“This is unquestionably the most difficult time in our history,” Mr. Luna said. “However, we have the most incredible team that has risen to these new challenges, and continue to go above and beyond. These are the hardest working people that I’m so proud to call friends and family, and we know we will get through this all together.”
He and Ms. Cafarelli shared how happy they are to still have the support of the community as they change to delivery or curbside pickup options only.
“The response has been amazing, and we are so grateful for all the support!” Mr. Luna said. “We hope to continue serving comfort and good food to our community.”
Ms. Cafarelli said the Santa Barbara Public Market seats about 350 customers, so people were aware of the risk if the site had remained open during the pandemic. “We had a great response from the community thanking us for closing.”
Helping local restaurants stay afloat is their ability to offer special deals.
Jerry Lee, co-owner of the market’s Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar, said that while his business doesn’t have special offers on food, he has tried selling gift cards at a promotional rate.
“If people bought a $40 gift card, I would give them $60. I am trying to find ways to make some little cash and try to float us through,” Mr. Lee said.
Changes to the menu have also been a way for Empty Bowl to save a little money.
Since the transition to a delivery service, Mr. Lee said he has cut the menu by 75 percent by only offering a few options. He hopes to add three more items back into the fold by this week, however.
“I am trying to do more stuff that could be universal,” he said. “For example, one item could cover like maybe three or four dishes, so I’m trying to keep my food costs down so I can cover my overhead and still provide what I need for the community.”
Los Agaves had free delivery for a while, but has since changed. The restaurant’s special deal now includes offering 15 percent off all to-go orders at its Goleta and De La Vina Street locations. Additionally, Restaurant Connection is offering customers a 10 percent discount with the code AGAVESTEN.
Lastly, Los Agaves is now able to sell its famous margaritas to-go at its De La Vina Street location after California relaxed its liquor laws for restaurants.
“Our food has always been very comforting, and most of our customers have their own Los Agaves favorites and are continuing to order them and enjoy at home now. Our burritos, enchiladas and nachos are always the most popular,” Mr. Luna said.
Asked what his favorite dish is, Mr. Luna admitted it is very hard to pick one, but said that right now, the enchiladas Guadalajara are his go-to. He added that they are “the perfect comfort food to help with the stress.”
Los Agaves did have to make the hard decision to close a few locations due to the pandemic. One way the restaurant hopes to help the employees of those locations, which are the Milpas Street, Westlake Village and Oxnard locations as well as Santo Mezcal and Flor de Maiz, is by donating 100 percent of gift card sales to the workers.
“Our primary concern is being able to take care of our team at all our restaurants while navigating this uncharted territory,” Mr. Luna said. “We are donating ALL gift card sales to our employees impacted by the restaurant closures due to COVID-19, so we’re encouraging the community to go to our websites and buy gift cards to help us support them (los-agaves.com, santomezcalsb.com and flordemaizsb.com).”
Without a shadow of a doubt, right now is the most difficult time for any business, including restaurants.
But there is still an option to support local businesses, and now more than ever, the owners are thankful for that help. At the same time, local businesses are also happy to still be able to provide goods to everyone in town.
“We have a tagline. ‘Santa Barbara Public Market: where Santa Barbara comes together,’ because when the mudslides happened, we fed over 1,500 people over three days for free,” Ms. Cafarelli said, referring to “Evacuees, first responders, medical support, and we really embedded ourselves in so many community members.
“And that’s what a business, whether it’s a local restaurant or a collective like us, is all about,” she said. “We are here for the community, and the community is here for us.
“It’s a symbiotic relationship, and we really want to continue to be there for them and do as much as we can.”
TAKE-OUT AND DELIVERIES
Food by any vendor at the Santa Barbara Public Market is available for pickup or delivery from noon to 3 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. daily. And even if you order from all nine restaurants, there is still only one delivery charge.
To order, go to restaurantconnectionsb.com. And there is information at that site on a free mobile app.
For more information, go to sbpublicmarket.com or email the market at email@example.com.
To order food for pickup or delivery from Los Agaves’ locations at 2911 De La Vina Street and 7024 Market Place Drive, Goleta, go to los-agaves.com/order.
You can visit www.downtownsb.org for a list of take-out/delivery options at Santa Barbara restaurants.
You can also find those options at other restaurants throughout Santa Barbara County.
For example, S.Y. Kitchen in Santa Ynez has delivery and pickup options. See sykitchen.com.
Bob’s Well Bread Bakery in Los Alamos is beginning twice-a-week deliveries today for Santa Ynez Valley residents. Deliveries will be on Thursdays and Saturdays. Go to www.bobswellbread.com.
And peasants FEAST, a new restaurant, will have a soft opening April 1 in Solvang with take-out and curbside pickup service. See peasantsfeast.com.