• Jerry Thomas

How Oakland’s Philomena is Winning Business During the Coronavirus Pandemic

As confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to grow across the U.S., local governments have been implementing precautionary measures to make sure their communities stay safe and healthy. For restaurants in particular, most, if not all, are being required to stop their dine-in operations immediately and offer take-out or delivery only. For many restaurant owners, their food service business is their sole source of income, and therefore are increasingly impacted by government‒mandated closures and operating limitations. Oakland pizzeria Philomena recently shuttered its dining area in accordance with the Bay Area-issued shelter-in-place order and transitioned to carry out and delivery service with the assistance of third‒party takeout and delivery platforms such as Caviar, UberEats, DoorDash, and Postmates. We caught up with owner Michael Richard to learn what he is doing to keep his business operating and serving his community with delicious food during this time.

Credit: Philomena Pizza

When asked about the initial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on his business, Mr. Richard shared that “this is a very bizarre time, and we’re taking extra precautions to make sure our customers feel safe.” Since the shelter-in-place order went into effect, Philomena’s usual business has declined, causing a change in the amount of inventory they order and limiting the number of employees working at the same time. As a small business owner, Mr. Richard is also worried about the impact of COVID-19 on his employees, both from the business side of his restaurant needing to maintain a high level of orders to keep everyone on staff and working, to the personal concerns of his employees' such as their interactions with the public, and balancing their families’ needs and obligations. Unfortunately, this has rapidly become the norm in today’s environment, as mom-and-pop stores, small companies, and even large corporations are forced into laying off or furloughing large numbers of staff to cut costs and save their businesses – leaving many without pay and insurance benefits during a time when they are needed most. 

In order to combat these losses, Philomena is now implementing innovative ideas that pique customers’ interest with the goal of bringing in more orders and larger sales tickets. Because they can no longer serve their in-house brunch on weekends, they have created a new “Bring Home Brunch” kit, which includes coffee, mimosas, a 10-inch brunch pizza, and french toast – plenty for two people. Since the news that all liquor‒licensed restaurants in California are now allowed to sell alcohol with food orders, Philomena has begun selling wine, beer, and (wine-license safe) cocktails with the help of their Somabar machine and special promotions. For beer, they will be offering growler incentives; for cocktails, they are implementing a “buy-more-and-save” option, serving cocktails in glass mason jars, and including ramekins with garnishes to provide customers with a fun, at-home way to dress up their mixed beverages. For more information on these offers, please visit Philomena’s website.

Credit: Philomena Pizza

When asked about their alcohol sales, Richard noted that pizzerias traditionally cater mostly to beer drinkers, but realized that by offering cocktails he could fill a big gap. In his restaurant  “there is always at least one person at each table who isn’t interested in beer,” so he wanted to give his unfulfilled customers more options for alcoholic drinks. “I like the idea of providing my customers with something light and fruity, and something that has a kick.” With this idea, he began to research how he could provide consistent and delicious cocktails, without having to spend the time and money to invent a cocktail program himself or hire a professional bartender ‒ and that led him right to Somabar.  While Philomena only has a beer & wine alcohol license, with Somabar, they are able to sell professional cocktails using wine-license safe liquors without increasing staff or having any special training, all at the tap of a button. The Somabar Automated Bartender takes away the need to hire a mixologist and lets any member of a restaurant’s waitstaff pour mixed drinks in 10 seconds or less – freeing up time to better serve customers, take more orders, and prepare food for delivery or takeout. For businesses like Philomena, “It’s one more offering that doesn’t take a lot of time, is consistent, and doesn’t produce a lot of waste.” Somabar’s full cocktail menu consists of the entire international bartender association cocktail list, including the most well-known and customer favorite drinks such as the margarita and cosmopolitan.

Credit: Somabar

Philomena has already seen an increase in orders by implementing these changes, and Mr. Richard hopes this trend continues as he implements new ideas as well as provide more cocktail options for his restaurant’s carry out and delivery customers. As our way of life continues to evolve due to the impact of the coronavirus, restaurants like Philomena seek innovative yet cost-effective options like Somabar to lure in new customers, increase each order’s size and help keep their businesses running. When asked for advice to other restaurants during this difficult time, Michael Richard offered: “Don’t try to do a complete pivot. Use what you have to make it work.”

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