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Restaurants Are Evolving Into Corner Stores to Stay Alive

Businesses are using their stores of pantry staples, cleaning, supplies, and toilet paper to provide for the community and make an income during the COVID-19 pandemic

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An aerial shot of glass jars containing rice, beans, pasta, tea, and other dry goods, on a light wood table. Fevziie/Shutterstock
Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

The restaurant industry is nothing if not scrappy. In just a little over a week, many establishments across the country that may never have considered dabbling in delivery before have now adopted it wholesale as a means of survival in the new and frightening landscape created by novel coronavirus. And a few have even taken things a step further by becoming a go-to destination for pantry staples, cleaning, supplies, and, yes, toilet paper in addition to the usual carryout toast. (On second thought, there’s nothing “usual” about carryout toast.) Essentially, restaurants are becoming corner stores.

Sister Pie, a popular bakery in Detroit, quickly switched gears this week after Michigan’s governor closed dining rooms. The shop now offers takeout items like kale salad and buckwheat chocolate chip cookies, as well as a rotating selection of pantry staples like flour, eggs, milk, and yogurt. The format, which is still in its early stages, is one element of what owner Lisa Ludwinski calls a a comprehensive plan designed to help take care of employees while reducing waste at the shop and generating income.

In Las Vegas, Antonio Nunez and Scott Commings of Hell’s Kitchen season 12 have converted their restaurant, the Stove, into a pop-up market, Eater Vegas reports. The store’s shelves now feature options like eggs, milk, canned beans, spices, and toilet paper — daily necessities that have become more in-demand since COVID-19 drove Americans into semi-quarantine. “The current scenes at local grocery stores may be too stressful for seniors to endure, and buying in bulk may not be feasible for individuals, so we wanted to offer an alternative,” chef and co-owner Nunez said in a statement.

Other restaurants are offering their pantries and larders to customers. In Portland, Oregon, fried chicken restaurant Yonder is offering its normal menu to-go, in addition to a new “pantry menu” designed to help guests stock up: It features items normally not available for sale, like loaves of bread, ready-to-bake biscuits, pickles, and flavored butters. In Los Angeles, Porridge and Puffs is selling bulk grains, housemade pickles, hot sauces, shrubs, and even fresh flowers alongside its take-out food menu. Guerrilla Tacos, also in Los Angeles, combines a pantry with a meal kit: It began pushing an offer for a family-style taco dinner kit featuring five pounds of roasted chicken, five pounds of carne asada, a quart of red salsa, a quart green of salsa, tortillas, onion, cilantro, rice, beans, and 30 eggs — and four rolls of toilet paper for good measure.

The toilet paper, which was provided by the restaurant’s distributor, has since been cut back to one roll per order, according to Eater LA. Similar promos have since popped up in Atlanta; Covington, Kentucky; Washington, D.C.

If the shutdown continues for much longer, it’s likely that many restaurants will be starting to look at these models to supplement income outside of just food service.

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