Adaptation is the name of the game nowadays as we self-isolate amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Though it’s been the case since, well, the beginning of time, lately, it seems more dire. In the brilliant words of David Bowie, we all must now “turn and face the strange.” For Wilmington restaurants and bars, facing the strange and adapting to change is even more important to keeping business afloat. While many restaurants utilize third-party delivery options, a la Uber Eats or DoorDash, a few are giving it more of a personal touch, as a means to keep revenue coming in when only curbside pickup and delivery options are available to the shelter-at-home public.
Chris and Marie Guarino have owned and operated Taste of Italy (TOI) since 1994. The Wilmington staple is known for its massive deli subs and mouth-watering chicken and eggplant parm. Now, they’re delivering to Wilmington residents’ homes.
“We have our full menu available, both hot and cold (take and bakes), as well as our full grocery section (wine too, moms!),” Marie says. Best part: no delivery fee. However, TOI asks orders be placed for a minimum of five households per neighborhood and the neighborhood be within 15 miles of the restaurant.
“All you have to do is talk to your neighbors, decide on a drop-off day, time and location (clubhouse, willing neighbor’s house, etc.) and have one person call and confirm it’s available,” Marie explains. “Then, if you choose to order, each family calls in separately and just has to inform the employee on the phone you are placing an order for [neighborhood name,] and give your first and last name. You can prepay over the phone, and we will bring your receipt to the drop off.”
The neighborhood strategy is also being executed by beloved local ice cream shop Boombalatti’s. Owners Wes and Kristen Bechtel keep a tight schedule of daily neighborhood deliveries to ensure there is a fair distribution of ice cream throughout town. Their schedule can be found daily on Facebook. There have a four-pint minimum and a $4 delivery fee, and so far, people are happy to abide. “We got 22 orders on the first day, and have been averaging around 25-30 orders a day,” Wes shares.
Quarantine has also revealed a flavor trend Wes and Kristen didn’t expect—the rise of banana with Nilla Wafers. “People have always loved it, but it’s been more popular than Chocolate Cream Pie during this period—and that’s something none of us would have guessed,” he muses.
Tasty Italian fare and frozen treats aren’t the only things being dropped off on doorsteps. A perfect meal will be complete with the addition of wine and/or beer. Bottega on North 4th has slashed prices in a big way in an effort to make sure inventory doesn’t stick around. Owner Addie Wuensch—self-described “beer and wine fairy”—isn’t charging delivery fees but urges customers to tip the driver. Deliveries can be made within a 30-mile radius of the bar, and the wait depends on distance and volume. Anyone who has a timeframe needed can make the request, and Wuensch will do her best to meet it.
Downtown bottle shop Bombers Beverage Company is also making deliveries, though they are keeping them closer to downtown. Kyle Harshner and Sunni Holley offer a varied wine and beer list but they require a $30 minimum.
The general consensus is, while delivery is a temporary solution during shelter-in-place, everyone is looking forward to serving friendly faces in person.
“We may continue to deliver in the future,” Wuensch emphasizes, “however, we eagerly await the safety and health of the community so we can open again to the public and continue with our regular art and music related events.”
Though deliveries have helped, they’re not a long-term solution to get everything back up where it should be. For Boombalatti’s, seasonal business, specifically spring and summer, is their bread and butter.
“Without delivery we’d have about an 80% decrease in revenue, which is tough because March is the very end of our five-month offseason,” bemoans Wes. “Now is the time we start making money to set aside to stay open throughout the winter. Adding delivery has allowed us to provide our customers with the ice cream they’re missing, while helping us keep our full-time staff working and keeping our lights on and our rent paid.”
Bombers has likewise felt the squeeze. “Until we are able to return to business as usual, we will continue to do what we can to get by,” Harshner affirms.
Even in this darker time, there is hope. The community has shown its support. “We’ve delivered over 2,000 pints in the last three weeks,” Wes says. “We got into the ice cream business to make people happy, and if delivering ice cream helps us do that, we are all for it.”