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Local restaurants pivot for new business during the pandemic
The 5 Spot's tent allows for outdoor dining in Habersham Village.

WHEN THE pandemic forced restaurants to close around Savannah, Zachary Schultz, owner of Cotton & Rye, knew he had to be creative. With all staff furloughed, he got together with his pastry chef, executive chef and general manager to create a series of pop-up bake shops.

“We didn’t know what was going on. We knew that we had to slow the loss.”

The crew started with the first pop-up concept on March 22, which was strictly a bakeshop. They offered cinnamon rolls, basil mint ice cream cake and boxes of assorted freshly baked cookies.

The response was emphatic: the bake shop sold well to the restaurant’s customers, bringing comfort and carbohydrates during a stressful time.

The next Sunday the menu expanded to offer red velvet whoopee pies and brownies with white chocolate mousse. They gradually became more themed and elaborate. Easter included hot cross buns and Mother’s day had Bellinis and spiked pink lemonade to accompany egg salad.

The ultra popular bagel pop-up, full of shmears and spreads, sold out quickly as Zach remembers: “We sold over 800 bagels in seven hours.”

The idea proved lucrative to support the restaurant’s bottom line during a time of great uncertainty. Over the last few weeks, the restaurant transitioned to a takeout-only menu, serving fried chicken buckets and more family-style fare.

Now the plan is to move toward the CDC recommendations for dining, operating at 50% occupancy with social distancing, staff training, sanitation and extra space at the bar devoted to takeout orders. June 18 is the first day of regular service and the space will be open Thursday through Sunday. Cotton & Rye will still have takeout available from their menu for patrons that would rather eat at home.

The Gaslight Group, local restaurants made up of The 5 Spot at Habersham, The 5 Spot on Broughton, B. Matthews Eatery and Abe’s on Lincoln also brought imagination to their pandemic plan.

The 5 Spot at Habersham specifically needed more space for their clientele to feel comfortable.

Carey Ferrara, Director of Sales and Marketing, describs the innovative solution shared with other restaurants in the area.

“We were looking for a way to make our guests more comfortable. We were talking to Bella’s and we came together to use the parking spaces right in the front to create a really nice dining area with coverage. This allows us to serve more customers in a socially distant way and even bring more staff back on board. The response has been phenomenal.”

The tent went up the week of June 1 and the restaurant started serving inside it right away. Bella’s will soon join them. They also refreshed their menu, though they’ve hired a new chef and will be changing it again soon. The signs from their other restaurants are looking up, B. Matthews has a wait again for weekend brunch and the dinner service is slowly filling.

There was still a need, though, to figure out what to do with The 5 Spot’s downtown location and the challenging atmosphere of a bar during pandemic times.

The problem was two-fold. Carey says, “The 5 Spot Broughton does a lot of the downtown business lunch crowd. Right now we don’t have that business.” Abe’s also was a particular challenge. “The space, with the current rules, could only have about 13 people. That’s hard.”

The solution was for them to help each other. Since The 5 Spot is open for dinner, Abe’s is utilizing the downstairs room, able to allow up to 25 patrons. Full of exposed brick, wood-beam ceilings, couches and high top tables, the comfortable, quintessential Savannah-style space is now being called Abe’s on Broughton.

The bonus is that The 5 Spot has a space for a relaxing after dinner drink and bar patrons can enjoy the Abe’s staff serving their favorite beverages and dinner from the restaurant above.

While 2020 seems full of uncertainty for the restaurant industry, the places that are ready to adapt and pivot have created some interesting solutions.

Carey sums the industry’s feelings up nicely: “It’s all about adaptation. That’s the name of the game right now.”