When Atlanta eating places closed their eating rooms in the beginning of the pandemic, almost all started providing takeout, even when they by no means had earlier than—a measure meant to maintain them alive, and for a lot of only a momentary answer. However restaurateurs additionally started experimenting with different methods to earn cash, like promoting packaged meals along with their regular menu objects. At Snackboxe Bistro in Doraville, pouches of spicy chili chips and Lao-style beef jerky appeared on a shelf by the register; in Krog Road Market, Ticonderoga Club started providing bottled cocktails together with its takeout menu. For these locations and others, the experimentation proved a success: Although sit-down eating has made a tenuous comeback this 12 months, the restaurant-as-grocer is an innovation that’s prone to stick round.
“I feel a variety of small companies realized—and I do know for us it was true—that folks wished a approach to help us after they couldn’t dine in,” says Rosa Thurnher, co-owner of El Ponce, a Mexican restaurant in Poncey-Highland. Even earlier than the pandemic, Thurnher and co-owner Jarina Naone had a aspect challenge promoting meals at Freedom Farmers Market. However with the eating world in disarray, the pair noticed a chance to supply packaged items out of their restaurant too—as a approach to “nonetheless be related to individuals who didn’t need to be in individual,” Thurnher says. Now El Ponce sells frozen tamales and empanadas, aguas frescas, chamoy, and numerous salsas to take dwelling; Thurnher and Naone additionally remodeled El Bar, beforehand identified for its revelry, right into a boutique known as Tiendita, that includes wares and crafts from ladies and indigenous-owned manufacturers.
For some restaurant house owners, CPGs—client product items—weren’t a blip on the radar earlier than the pandemic. “We had such a tough time even maintaining with all of the mechanics and methods of restaurant operation that we hadn’t even ever regarded in that path,” says Kara Hidinger, co-owner of Staplehouse—which Bon Appetit declared, in 2016, to be the best new restaurant in the country. (Atlanta journal was roughly as effusive.) “However, you recognize, when all of that shut down and also you’re taking a look at a clean slate, it’s a must to get artistic on using the area now we have and put ourselves at dwelling.”
Final October, below chef and co-owner (and Hidinger’s husband) Ryan Smith, the restaurant advanced right into a market promoting charcuterie, pastries, and provisions. Including packaged objects made in-house appeared like a pure subsequent step, Hidinger says, including that Smith “was like, how will we get artistic and take this identify, Staplehouse, again to the origin?” Immediately buyers can take dwelling everything-flavored crackers, pasta made with Root Baking’s flour, and quite a lot of condiments, together with XO sauce and salsa macha—all produced within the Staplehouse kitchen.
As eating places embrace these new classes, they’re additionally seeking to current the products in additional polished methods than the everyday plastic quart container. Hidinger labored along with her older brother Scott, a artistic director primarily based in Los Angeles, on branding. “We began occupied with stripping down all the flamboyant and it simply being like actually direct and approachable, however form of lighthearted and enjoyable,” says Hidinger.
At El Ponce, Thurnher and Naone labored with Whitney Bolster of Ampersand, an Atlanta-based branding studio whose work seems domestically in lodges just like the Wylie and nationally with manufacturers just like the Honey Pot. Bolster works to present merchandise a particular visible identification (punchy purple and vibrant florals in El Ponce’s case), and helps craft copy that accommodates particulars concerning the product. When manufacturers attain out to Bolster and her crew, it’s often as a result of they’re at some extent the place they’re able to scale up. And whereas it may be a problem for manufacturers ranging from scratch to introduce CPGs to markets, eating places have a chance to organically take a look at out what works, says Bolster: “With El Ponce, the merchandise that they’re packaging are beloved objects which were obtainable within the restaurant. A few of the objects I really feel like Rosa and Jarina have developed because of folks taking meals to go.”
Some eating places outsource their packaged meals by working with manufacturers like Grant Park’s Beautiful Briny Sea, which usually sells infused sea salts and sugar blends out of outlets like Williams-Sonoma and Complete Meals. Proprietor Suzi Sheffield says that, more and more, she’s been listening to from cooks occupied with partnering along with her to make their very own salt blends to promote. That is primarily financially pushed, however the pandemic gave cooks the chance to scratch a artistic itch, says Sheffield. “Initially of the pandemic, every part simply shut down for a minute and also you needed to reinvent shortly. However I feel it form of lent itself to lastly checking off a listing, like, Hey, I’ve all the time wished to do that.”
When cooks like Jennifer Hill Booker and Kevin Gillespie (Gunshow, Chilly Beer, et al) work with Sheffield, they get free rein of her studio in Grant Park. Experimenting with and mixing their seasonings there, they’ll then select a vessel for the combination—a glass jar with a boutique scoop is fascinating, but in addition dearer than a tin container. As a result of Sheffield’s merchandise are shelf-stable, cooks don’t have to fret about promoting them as shortly. It’s not as low cost as producing and packaging meals in-house, however nonetheless probably worthwhile.
Now that Staplehouse is settling into its market idea, Hidinger plans on promoting packaged meals for the lengthy haul. “For us it’s not a brief pivot,” she says. “It’s a long-term objective, to develop the market and proceed to function with this mannequin. So I hope that for our small enterprise and different small companies, the package deal items are right here to remain.”
Packaged meals have helped eating places stay viable, however they’ve additionally helped reframe a frightening problem into one thing constructive, says Bolster: “Once we consider resilience, we consider energy—you possibly can stand up to something, you’re powerful. However actually, it’s about flexibility and being prepared to alter your story and alter your path primarily based on new intelligence. And I feel that this packaging alternative actually got here out of that form of mindset that they’ve.”