By Richard Eber
Life goin’ nowhere. Somebody help me.
Somebody help me, yeah.
Life goin’ nowhere. Somebody help me, yeah.
I’m Stayin’ alive. – The Bee Gees from Saturday Night Fever
It is incredibly quiet now at the Concord Park and Shop. A lone red pick-up truck that resides in a now empty parking lot at Park and Shop Shopping Center tells the whole story. Nearby restaurants Brasas Do Brazil, Burger King, and the China Wall Buffet lie closed during the current Covid-19 outbreak.
These popular eateries are but a part of a dwindling food service industry, both locally and throughout the nation. With rent to pay, employee salaries, and continuing overhead expenses, surviving in this difficult environment, is no easy task.
Much depends on the type of food served and ease of pick-up and delivery. Price is also a consideration. Obviously, franchise operations such as Mc Donald’s, Taco Bell, El Pollo Loco, Wendy’s etc.., have a big advantage because in most cases they already have drive-through operations in place.
Some restaurant success is determined by how well their menu travels once prepared and packaged to go. If the product quality rapidly declines before arriving to its final destination, sales will suffer significantly in a take-out market. Italian, Asian, and Mexican foods generally hold up well.
Businesses that already have an existing brisk take-out trade are at a distinct advantage.
One such place is Tortilleria El Molino at 1500 Monument Blvd in Concord. While many of their competitors are struggling or are closed, this low cost Mexican restaurant is thriving. During peak periods, lines with patrons patiently standing at 6-foot intervals, extend into the street. Their homemade menu of tortillas, tacos, tortas, pupusas, quesadillas, and fresh fruit smoothies are a welcome alternative to “Bun and Run” faire. A solid reputation for quality take-out at a great price, even a pandemic will struggle to defeat that formula for success.
Other local establishments have had to rapidly reinvent themselves after shelter-in-place was ordered. Concord’s highest volume restaurant, the Golden Coral All-You-Can-Eat Buffet, has not closed their doors but has found its overall traffic limited to their fried chicken and a few take-out items. I would consider that a drastic change in their business model.
High-end restaurants have been especially hit hard. Few people desire to partake in a candlelit, intimate dining experience with gourmet delights served from Styrofoam containers with plastic cutlery. However, one such place that has bucked this trend is Lima Restaurant located across from Todos Santos Plaza in Concord.
Owner-Chef John Marquez has created a special menu specifically for take-out and delivery services. For $25.00, he offers a whole chicken marinated in Peruvian spices along with French fries, salad and a special dipping sauce. He also has put together a “Relief Package” for $19.00 per person with a choice of a mixed seafood platter, pork adobo, or Tallarin stir fried noodles. These items are served with a beer or soft drink along with homemade shortbread cookies.
Mom and Pop places that have chosen to remain open have faced a significant challenge. The Oasis Café on Stanwell Drive and Bisso Lane in Concord is one such place that has undertaken a different strategy.
Deprived of its regular lunch, catering trade, and barbecued turkey leg concession at local Farmer’s Markets, owner Mike Parham has reduced his hours and formulated a special take-out menu of Teriyaki, Chicken Fajitas, and Jambalaya Bowls priced at $11,00. On Fridays, he delivers these pre-ordered meals to a kiosk that Oasis operates in the Rossmoor retirement community in Walnut Creek.
Thinking outside the box will likely be the mode necessary for restaurants to stay afloat until Health Officials open the economy to include them. However, even when these restrictions are lifted, it will take some time for businesses to regain the volumes they previously enjoyed. With such challenges facing restaurants, it will be difficult for all of them to survive.