What Does Opening a Restaurant Right Now Look Like?

September 10, 2020
Andre Natera

Running a restaurant isn’t an easy business. Long hours, small margins, and delivering memorable experiences for guests are demanding. Throw in a pandemic and near shutdown of the world, and dining is moving into new territory. Sarah Heard, Co-Chef and Owner of Austin’s Foreign and Domestic, joins Chef Andre as they discuss what’s she’s learned and how she’s reimagining running a restaurant.

Heard purchased Foreign and Domestic in 2017 from its original owners. The restaurant was the “original nose-to-tail, farm-to-table dining experience.” Taking on the well-known restaurant was a challenge. “We wanted to keep the same core values while also balancing what we do with the history. Cooking sustainably was important. We promote zero waste, so learning to cook what others would consider waste was different,” Heard said.

While the restaurant was predominantly dine-in only, all that changed once COVID hit. “As a smaller restaurant, we were able to pivot within hours with one trip to get to-go containers. We expanded our menu online for to-go orders and, in our first night, made $4000,” Heard said.

The transition meant redefining the cooking process from precise plating to cartons. Because the restaurant specializes in homemade, fresh entrees, they had shied away from to-go orders. Then it became a necessity. She credits most of this to an “amazing staff that rolled with the punches.”

The restaurant is now welcoming diners back but keeping to-go on the menu, helping to supplement the revenue they would have seen before the pandemic.

As if her schedule wasn’t busy enough, Heard also purchased and opened a new restaurant, Commerce Café. “It’s a different experience because it’s a café with counter service. Right now, we’re only open for dinner but will expand to breakfast and lunch. It’s a lot of work but worth it. I’m always looking for the next challenge, even though this wasn’t something I thought I was looking for, we’re happy and excited to be open,” she said.

Next time Only on Run the Pass

Chef Andre Natera will be back as he invites the CEO of Food RelatedLuciano Ciociari into his kitchen to design the perfect charcutterie board and to learn how Luciano has revitalized his family company to ensure its growth for future generations.

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