Sara Frasca owns and operates Trasca & Co Eatery in Ponte Vedra, Fla. Her eatery has three "cousin restaurants" in Colorado, which are owned by — you guessed it — Frasca's cousins.
Each restaurant's menu draws common inspiration from a secret family dough recipe, but unlike her Colorado cousins, Frasca was permitted to reopen her dining room in early May.
"Now we're almost back to full revenue," she says, noting that early in the pandemic she had felt paralyzed by the coronavirus’s impact on business and had even considered contacting a bankruptcy attorney. "We picked up incrementally because we were willing to get scrappy and creative. Our backs were against the wall, so we did what was necessary."
What can we learn from Frasca and other businesses that reopened months ago? We spoke with several Florida business owners about the lessons they've learned so far, including how they identified and implemented ways to keep their customers and employees safe.
Frasca began cutting hours in March when she foresaw the seriousness of the coronavirus and how it was likely to impact her business.
In hopes of protecting employees who most needed their Trasca income, she first approached her high school and college workers about cutting their hours since they still had financial support from their parents. They all agreed, so Frasca never had to cut hours for those employees who depended on their income from Trasca.
“Our team acted like a true family," she says, also noting that Trasca has offered health benefits to its employees for years, which are especially appreciated during this time. “We had no furloughs and no exits. Everyone made it through this."
During a time when restaurants lost an average of 85% of their revenue, Trasca lost just 50% — and that was at the worst point.
“We had the humility to change things every week — to pivot and be flexible," Frasca, who also works as an innovation consultant, explains. “When customers felt uncomfortable coming to our location, we brought the food to them in the form of neighborhood pop-up events and touchless delivery."
Trasca also adjusted their product offerings, creating pizza-making kits for parents at home with bored kids and frozen meals that they could pop in the oven. Frasca also launched Trasca's Adopt-a-First-Coast-Hero program, which used 100% of its donations, ranging from $5 to $1,000, to supply meals directly to first responders and healthcare workers.
As Trasca opened its dining room to customers and invited its employees to return, Frasca learned some unexpected lessons and found what worked best through trial and error.
Below are her best recommendations for other businesses impacted by the coronavirus, especially restaurants, preparing to reopen their doors:
Though Florida did not mandate all restaurant workers to wear masks once dining rooms could open, Frasca had planned to require her greeters to do so. But she found that wasn't enough to make all of her customers feel comfortable.
Receiving a call from a concerned patron, Frasca listened and then acted.
Now every Trasca employee wears a mask while in the restaurant for safe work.
“A touch-of-the-button communication tool with our team is a must," Frasca says. To create a safety culture and strong communication among her team, she uses HomeBase to instantly alert all employees via text about new rules and procedures.
Frasca invited a health inspector to train her entire staff on COVID-19, including how to maintain a healthy and safe environment during the pandemic.
Hiring a reputable expert put her back $400—but improving worker and patron safety is an invaluable investment
“Business owners may not want to spend extra money during these times, but that was worth it. Not only do we have a certificate on our door to show customers that our staff has been trained, but having that third-party authority really helped our employees 'get it'."
One of the biggest concerns for many businesses is that their employees may test positive for COVID-19, putting other employees in danger and causing them to shut down again — something that has already happened to several Florida businesses, including many bars.
“We asked our employees to be part of the solution, asking them not to go out to bars, etc. We explained that if they get sick, it could shut us down — affecting everyone they work with."
No matter what precautions you take, there's still a chance that the coronavirus will impact your business and result in closing your doors again.
In fact, some Florida businesses near Trasca have already chosen — or been forced — to once again close after reopening, so Frasca recommends preparing for that scenario.
“Every week brings something new. We're not out of the woods yet," she says. “Stay nimble and plan to continually adjust. Be innovative and agile with the products and services you offer."
Frasca notes that she had the advantage of a “crystal ball" of sorts.
One of her close friends works in the healthcare industry and gave her helpful information about the coronavirus early on, including how to prepare for a safe work environment for her restaurant.
"We're prepared to be this careful for as long as is needed for community health and comfort," Frasca says. "And we will come out of this stronger than when we went in. We're a better operation, a better team."
We’re offering free virtual safety consultations for all Colorado businesses. Connect with one of our safety experts to get started.