Entrepreneur diaries: Stephanie Byrd on reopening, staffing woes, and why #BLM isn't a trend

 

This is part of an ongoing series where Model D talks with local entrepreneurs as they navigate the local business landscape in the wake of the novel coronavirus. Read Stephanie's most recent diary entry on supporting Black businesses here.

A customer has been DM’ing us, asking when The Block is going to reopen. Last Thursday, we quietly opened for carryout and sure enough he was there, ordering his favorite: the Smokehouse Burger.

 

Even though restaurants have been able to do carryout during the pandemic, we took our time to reopen. My family first reopened Flood’s Bar & Grille, starting with carryout and delivery before launching dine-in (which we did on June 11 at 50% seated capacity with seating 6 feet apart). At The Block, we took a lot of lessons from Flood’s, with the biggest lesson being that even though the state allowed restaurants to reopen for dine-in doesn't mean we had to do so on June 8. We needed to just start with carryout and delivery. There are so many kinks to work out from the online system to staffing so it’s best to just start with those two services before opening the doors for dine-in. As of right now, we’re looking at adding dine-in at The Block in the next couple of weeks.

 

Business at The Block exceeded our goals for the day, and I’m really pleased especially since we did little marketing to announce we were reopening. And it’s a good thing we did, because we had a no show, a huge pain point, pandemic or not.

 

As we learned from Flood’s, staff has turned out to be not as reliable as we would’ve hoped. I had four people scheduled, an already skeleton crew. So when a cook didn’t show up, my chef had to be the prep cook, the cook, and the dishwasher for a 10-hour shift.

 

I had expected to have a no show but didn’t expect it would be the very first day back. We knew we had to have a slow reopening. We were down a cook and had we really marketed our reopening for carryout, we would’ve had to shut down our online system because we would’ve been overwhelmed.

 

So there will be some hard decisions to make such as figuring out whether we're going to work with these employees moving forward or cutting ties with people who don’t want to commit. It seems like some workers are choosing not to work because they’re able to rely on federal money and unemployment, giving them the luxury to work at their leisure.

 

We’re trying to be compassionate. I know everyone has a different situation, whether it be family or issues at home, and I always try not to count other people's money. But to not even get a phone call? It's frustrating as a business owner. The federal pandemic money is set to end at the end of July. So it should be interesting to find out what happens. Will people continue to ghost?

 

Before the pandemic, there were so many restaurants popping up so we were all facing a labor shortage because workers had so many options for jobs. Now we're in the complete opposite position as a restaurant community with workers not wanting to come in at all, and I don’t think it’s because people are afraid to come back because of safety. But I have received a lot of calls this week from people who would like to apply for a job, people who are eager to start working.

 

As we get ready to reopen next month, we'll focus on building the carryout business in general. We hope that will always be a significant part of our business. It's a good time for us to work that angle.

 

Another thing I’m keeping an eye on is what’s happening at the state level with go-to cocktails. That would be huge because alcohol is a big moneymaker for us (and restaurants in general). In the meantime, we’re experimenting with new things, such as a mimosa kit (complete with bottle of bubbly) to go along with our popular brunch dishes. We’re also looking into opening up the patio, even if it’s just eight seats (being so close to the street and having limited space means not a ton of seats but every little bit counts).

 

It’s also time to try new things. For example, at Flood’s we're going to add a soul food taco, which is something completely new for us. I want to try things we've never considered before. This is the perfect time to test things out. I think we can quickly adapt during this time when we're not open for dine-in.

 

At this moment as we talk, I’m looking out the window and see a protest in progress. It’s encouraging to still see strong support from the Black community and from outside of our community. People are still providing financial support. Economic support is still the easiest way for a lot of people to help combat systemic racism.

 

I was concerned the Black Lives Matter movement was just going to be a trend, that the support would be a blip on the radar. And it’s possible that can still happen, but I really think that true supporters of the Black community will hold everyone accountable. This isn’t temporary, this isn't a trend, this should be part of all of our routines, Black people, non-Black people, everyone supporting Black folks whenever possible. We shouldn't have to give it a second thought. And I think that's the direction we're headed in as a country. I'm hopeful of that.

 

As told to Dorothy Hernandez

 

 

 

 

Signup for Email Alerts