Yum Village is the latest restaurant to pivot to a grocery model, mirroring a national and local trend of food businesses doing what they can to survive the coronavirus crisis, as it launches its new market pantry concept today.
“Now we're kind of in the mode of should we remain a restaurant or should we try to become a hybrid like a grocery restaurant or like a bodega,” says owner Godwin Ihentuge.
Starting today, customers can purchase goods such as toiletries, Afro-Caribbean snacks, and meal kits. In addition, Ihentuge says customers can access Yum Village’s series of cooking videos for a “full-on interactive experience.” For example, got a craving for spicy peanut stew? “You'll be able to say, I want to learn how to maafe … [with the video] now you can make maafe like Yum Village [at home].”
The pantry is one way for Yum Village to evolve after getting hit hard by the pandemic. Ihentuge shut down the business for two weeks in preparation for the market pantry (in the meantime he helped launch the Pay It Forward initiative that employs Detroit restaurateurs of color to feed people experiencing homelessness and young women and girls at risk).
“Our business dropped 75% [amid the pandemic] and in that same time frame, our online business grew 200%,” Ihentuge says. “The volume isn't there but the platform is now there and we have a great medium to use. People weren’t ordering online [as much] before, now they are. When we do open back up and get some physical traffic, whenever this clears up, we'll be in a better spot. But if it doesn't clear up, which I don't think will happen … we'll have to be in it for the long haul in terms of just generating and accruing income online. We'll need to be able to sell more than just meals because people want to buy more than just meals all the time.
“So our desire is to make [the market pantry] a function that can survive even beyond [the pandemic],” Ihentuge says.