When Earl Follis pursued his dream of restaurant ownership as his second career just over a year ago, he planned contingencies for every scenario that he imagined could harm his business. From the possibility of a flash flood to a lawsuit to an equipment failure, Earl planned for every worst case. So, in November 2019, Earl confidently purchased 1431 Cafe in Cedar Park, TX. He didn’t know that just three months later, he’d be faced with the one scenario he had never imagined: a global pandemic.
After Texas state government orders were made in mid-March to close restaurants to dine-in service, Earl and his team of 17 employees closed for one day. They devised a plan: pivot to offer delivery services in addition to the takeout option they previously provided – and sell essential grocery items.
Earl worked with his food supplier to place a large grocery order that arrived the next day, and while his restaurant remained closed to in-person dining, a temporary grocery store was born.
“We knew we weren’t going to make money, but we wanted to make sure everyone knew we didn’t go away,” Earl said. “My goal was to keep the doors open while the dining room was closed.”
It was that very day that local grocery stores became constrained by the overwhelming demand for essential supplies. There were lines wrapped around entire parking lots to get inside, and limits were placed on items that quickly sold out anyway.
While his regular patrons adhered to shelter-in-place orders, Earl watched his business revenue dry up. On what he says is his most depressing business day yet, Earl saw his restaurant make just $65. He knew that he needed to get the word out that he had the supplies that neighbors were seeking.
Earl turned to Nextdoor, using Business Posts, to let local neighbors know that 1431 Cafe had essential grocery supplies in stock available through online ordering, and that they would deliver locally. One week later, 1431 Cafe was making at least $1500 a day.
“This was all driven by our Nextdoor presence and the fact that people were sharing my posts and complimenting us for supporting the needs of the community. And that positive word-of-mouth literally kept us afloat for a month,” Earl said.
Earl used Business Posts on Nextdoor to announce that his restaurant was carrying essential grocery items and offering delivery.
Food services businesses have been hit especially hard during the coronavirus crisis, but Earl is proud of the fact that he didn’t have to lay off any of his 17 employees. He doesn’t view these 17 people as just individuals. He sees the families at home that they support.
"A lot of people have been affected by this. Fortunately, we haven't been as affected because we leveraged tools like Nextdoor that kept our business alive and kept people talking about us. My staff is just incredulous that we've been able to pivot the way we did and move into groceries. This is an important story because it affects not just me, but dozens of my employees and their families. My employees have not been affected nearly as badly as a lot of food service industry employees, and I give Nextdoor a lot of credit for that."
The dining room of 1431 Cafe reopened on May 1, and Earl again used Business Posts to let the community know. While it will be some time before things return to what they once were, one thing is for certain: staying in touch with the community is critical to the success of local businesses. Just take Earl’s advice:
“It’s been so important to keep my neighbors updated about what my restaurant is doing, especially during the uncertainty created by the pandemic. Make sure to share specifics that your neighbors can be better informed about or act on – protocols they need to follow inside your business, new hours, or even a link to online ordering.”