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To-go or not to-go: Restaurants closing in Hall County, then reopening with a new model
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The oldest drive-thru in Gainesville? The owners of The Inked Pig on Main Street in midtown say so, and they're reviving the old window for use at the new restaurant. - photo by Nick Bowman

Picking up to-go food from restaurants has become the new normal.

The pandemic has claimed, if only temporarily, many restaurants around Hall County. But a few who announced closures in the past couple of weeks have pulled a surprise in tough times  — they’ve reopened with a new business model.

“You have to be agile and on your feet,” said Andrew Elliott, co-owner of The Inked Pig. “You have to be able to adjust to what’s going on. We’ve done a decent job of doing so, and I think that’s what will help keep our business relevant.”

The barbecue restaurant sorrowfully announced it would close on March 20, then reopened a week later with a different game plan — family-style to-go orders. 

“We know we have a demand for the product and give people good barbecue,” he said.

At the beginning of the week, The Inked Pig posts a new menu on social media and its website. People are able to place orders through Thursday at 2 p.m., by visiting theinkedpig.com. The food is then available for pick-up at the restaurant’s drive-thru from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. 

Elliott said The Inked Pig transitioned into a new business model to cut down on labor and to show people that the restaurant serves more than barbecue. Last week the business prepared smoked meatloaf, homemade biscuits and a tomato basil pasta with ricotta cheese. 

This week Elliott said people can expect a smoked chicken etouffee with sides, a pimento cheese dish and pork butt. The Inked Pig has also teamed up with the Southern Baked Pie Company, so customers can now add a pie to their orders.

Switching to family-style meals has proved beneficial for The Inked Pig, which has taken blows to sales like other local businesses. Elliott said last week he received around 50 orders.

If he could give one piece of advice to other restaurants, Elliott said to focus on using social media. 

“Let people know what you’re doing and be interactive with the clientele,” he said. “This is a time for everyone to come together and show what we can do to help out. By the end of the week, people are tired of cooking dinner.”

Scott Dixon, owner of Scott’s Downtown, said he considered reopening his business for to-go meals on Easter, but then changed his mind after thinking about his employees.

“We’ve been in the dark for two weeks,” Dixon said of closing his restaurant. “It didn’t make sense to possibly expose people.”

Unlike other restaurants in Gainesville, Scott’s has stayed away from to-go sales entirely. Dixon said in addition to keeping his staff and customers safe, he decided to stay temporarily closed because it made more sense on the books.

“We looked at it in different ways, and what we would have to do to not cost us more than the shutdown cost us already,” Dixon said. “It came out best to keep everything dark and let our guys rely on unemployment.”

Dixon said he already applied for the Paycheck Protection Program, which would allow him to keep his staff employed.

Scott’s will soon have a new billboard in Gainesville that includes the restaurant’s logo and an image of a sticky note with the sentence, “We’ll be back soon.”

“We’re definitely ready to get our doors open and welcome everybody back,” Dixon said. “In the meantime, we want to get through this and be as safe as possible. We hope to come back stronger than before.”

Kim Johnson, owner of At The Tracks in Lula, has kept her restaurant open for to-go orders to help out her loyal customers, who visit up to three times a week.

Unfortunately, Johnson said she doesn't know how much longer she can continue serving the public.

“We’re barely paying for the food we buy,” she said. “I lost six months of catering. We’re hanging on by a thread.”

Johnson said she recently applied for a Small Business Administration 7(a) loan, but she won’t know if her restaurant qualifies until around a month’s time — and by then it could be lights out for the Lula business.

At The Tracks’ to-go hours are 4-8 p.m., Friday and noon to 8 p.m., Saturday. People can place an order by calling 678-649-8248.

“Wait times are very high because we’re having to condense $1,000 worth of orders into four hours,” Johnson said. 

Diletto Bakery reopened on Monday, April 6, after temporarily closing on March 22.

Maira De Leon, social media director for Diletto Bakery, said the owner, James Velez, had tried reopening the business on March 24, only to close again four days later.

“He just wanted to give it a trial run, then decided it wasn’t working,” De Leon said. “Yesterday he decided to go for it and open back up for good. He’s the kind of person that doesn’t give up. He really wants to prevail with this.”

To draw in customers during the pandemic, Diletto Bakery has offered free bread rolls and given 10% off specials to customers. De Leon said the biggest challenge for the business is not being able to offer lunch or dinner food. 

She said the only product that does seem to draw in people is the bakery’s bread, which can be ordered in bulk.

To expand Diletto Bakery’s customer base, De Leon said Velez plans to launch an e-commerce website to ship the bakery’s products to homes throughout Hall County and the state.

“We’re trying to help the community as much as we can and also stay afloat to get us back to where we are,” she said. 

Diletto Bakery is open for to-go orders from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m, Monday through Friday. People can place an order by visiting dilettobakery.com

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Diletto Bakery owner James Velez. - photo by Scott Rogers
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