Several weeks of closure have forced local restaurants to get creative, to survive. Most have experimented with delivery and curbside pickup for the first time, while others have been forced to reinvent themselves entirely.
“It's such a weird phenomenon. It's like the lights just went out one day," said Sarah Noonan, manager of La Place Rendez-vous. "It had an instant impact on us. We're just trying to survive.”
La Place Rendez-vous has reinvested itself several times since the pandemic began, and Noonan is hoping its latest incarnation will carry them through to the reopening of restaurants - and maybe even beyond.
After a little soul searching, they have launched a trimmed-down menu of chilled entrees, ready for re-heating at home.
“We've tried to do it like a meal service for seniors and families," said Noonan. "We've had good feedback so far.”
The idea was born during a deep cleaning of the restaurant. An earlier attempt at delivery hadn't given them the volume they needed to stay viable. So they closed the restaurant to regroup.
As they scrubbed and chatted, brainstorming with staff led to the food service idea.
“It's actually something we've talked about before, with maybe catering or delivery," she said. "This has forced us to try it out.”
So the test kitchen opened and the chef and kitchen staff created a simplified menu of foods which store and reheat well. One of the biggest surprises was walleye.
“We weren't sure about it. It's battered. It's fried. We thought it might get a bit soggy. But it actually works really well. It crisps up and it's really good," said Noonan. "We were pleasantly surprised.”
Once delivery began, the staff noticed a broader range of clientele than they were expecting.
“We've got all kinds of people. Lots of couples, who just don't feel like cooking. We've got a couple girls who'll order a bunch for the week,” she said. Larger portions were created for families ordering, and a special Mother's Day selection was created for the holiday.
“We can't do anything to change this situation. You just have to think, 'OK. What can we do to fit inside this model,'" she said. "I'm pretty proud of how we've managed through this.”
Noonan is toying with the idea of continuing the food service once the restaurant is allowed to reopen. It's given them a new facet to the business, and a project to stay busy with, while they wait for restrictions to lift.
And although she's looking forward to reopening the doors to diners, it won't be going back to normal anytime soon.
“Even when we're open, it will be a much different dining experience, with -seating in a restaurant" she said. "There will be a lot of preparation needed.”