Optimism. It seems almost delusion in these strange times we find ourselves in.
The uncertainty that the following months and even following years project is nerve-wracking to a hospitality professional like me. I believe we need to find optimism and positivity to get through it. Despair stops us, where hope drives us forward.
I spoke to Jon Strader, founder of Hatchet Hall, to talk through the ways he is seizing opportunities in a stalling industry.
Reinventing the Wheel
They say there’s nothing new in the hospitality industry. At least there hasn’t been in decades. Jon proposed new tweaks and diverging avenues to keep his restaurant afloat.
“We created really well-curated market-style boxes, we got some merch going, we made family-style meals for pre-ordering to go, and that was great for the first couple of weeks! People want to support,” he said. He soon realized that to reignite his operations, however, these small pivots would not be enough.
“We got permission from the city to serve beverages in the parking lot so we put picnic tables out there to try and get the customers’ confidence back. It’s a different game. It’s all about adaptability and coming up with ideas on the fly”.
What I am most inspired by is Jon’s willingness to take these risks with no guarantee that they will pay off. Creating merchandise, installing a pre-order system, and, essentially, remodeling the parking lot is not cheap. These quick-fire experiments take investment and a ton of confidence that the outcome will be worth it. You at least want to break even eventually from those quick changes. Jon’s tenacity and persistence in the face of instability are pretty awe-inspiring to see.
Creating a New Wheel
Another bold leap that Jon Strader took was to buy a new restaurant.
Yes, you read that right! He bought a new restaurant.
I have been speaking to quite a few hospitality industry influencers about the closures of restaurants. It’s truly heartbreaking to see those staples of high streets close, but when one door closes, another opens.
Jon saw an opening with his business partner, Jack Leahy, to go for a potential business idea that they had always fantasized about.
“We had always just joked around about having a pizza concept, but when the pandemic happened I said, we should really go for it,” he reveals, “I think everyone is looking for approachability and an entry-level experience so I think the category of coffee, pizza, burgers, sandwiches, and tacos are kind of recession and COVID-proof.”
On a shoestring budget, they transformed a closing restaurant into a New York style, casual dining pizza concept. They were frugal with equipment and design to get the restaurant up and running practically overnight. It shows me that with some ingenuity and determination, you still have a fighting chance.
“You almost need to reconceptualize completely and start over” Jon advises and I couldn’t agree more. In these rocky times, it seems we almost have to get back to basics and reimagine what the industry could be. It’s equally excruciating and exciting. We’re in for a complete shakeup.
I, for one, am so excited to see what comes next.