As the food ecosystem has been shaken to its core by the coronavirus, some restaurant owners — their dining rooms and workers idled — have begun selling grocery items.
It’s more of a community service than a profit center, as the restaurateurs point out.
The move is also, in a way, the flipping of trends in food retailing. Long before the crisis, supermarkets had been blurring the line between “grocery” and “restaurant” with seating areas and prepared-food sections.
Eateries large and small have begun testing the grocery idea in the last two weeks. The Subway chain, for example, is toying with Subway Grocery, which sells sandwich ingredients out of some stores on the West Coast.
Locally, the Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant now stocks its 16 East Coast locations with a limited selection of staples, such as butter, milk, cheese, meats, “and if you can believe it, toilet paper and paper towels,” said Kim Boerema, Iron Hill’s chief executive. The groceries, which must be ordered in advance, supplement a scaled-down carryout menu, and beer and wine to go.
“We have a talented team of folks, and we found there is a need in the community for this," Boerema said. The company buys the groceries from its distributor, Gordon Food Service. Iron Hill plans to continue as long as it can, with daily hours for now of 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Boerema said 80% of the company’s 1,650 workers are out of work but receive health insurance and a complimentary meal each day.
Founding Farmers restaurant in the King of Prussia Town Center offers free delivery of family packs of food, including proteins, produce, bread, and two rolls of toilet paper, even beer, priced at $35 to $100 (484-809-3710).
United by Blue, the outdoorsy clothier at Second and Race Streets in Old City, sells a full line of groceries, including organic produce, meats, pantry staples, and a few household items, for pickup; delivery is available through Grubhub. Ordering can be done by email or by phone (267-457-3114).
The Olde Bar at Second and Walnut Streets in Old City offers a few random pantry staples for pickup, along with family-style meals. By random: You can score No. 10 cans of artichokes, piquillo peppers, black beans, white beans, and garbanzo beans, as well as orzo and other pastas by the pound, plus toilet paper and paper towels (215-253-3777).
Fond at 11th and Tasker Streets in South Philadelphia runs a market from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday with charcuterie, cheese, Rival Bros. coffee, organic whole chickens, organic eggs, milk, and toilet paper. There is a grab-and-go menu as well as prepared foods and Jessie Prawlucki-Styer’s breads on Saturday and Sunday. Limited delivery is available (215-551-5000).
Other restaurants are offering an item or two:
In addition to offering carryout of meals, all locations of the Texas Roadhouse chain have begun selling raw steaks — butchered on-premise — for customers to prepare at home, since many people want them hot off the grill. The price of the sirloins, strips, and rib eyes is about $1 an ounce, a spokesman said. Orders, which must be phoned in, can be picked up during lunch hours.
Capital Grille at Broad and Chestnut Streets is selling uncooked steaks, as well as cooked food.
Most Firebirds Wood-Fired Grill locations are selling 21-day-aged steaks for pickup, such as a 7-ounce filet mignon wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon ($12.95), via a menu section labeled “butcher shoppe.”
The Twisted Tail in Society Hill sells citrus (lemons and limes at three for $1) and fresh-squeezed juices (orange, grapefruit, and apple at $6 per pint) on weekends. Bloody Mary mix is available to go (215-558-2471).