The Olde Bryan Inn of Saratoga Springs has hung tough over these past few months through a combination of staff grit, customer loyalty and by keeping a positive attitude.
Like every other hospitality business shuttered during the Coronavirus, the doors of the 40-year-old landmark restaurant were shut by orders of the state on March 16; at which point, the management and staff of the legendary restaurant —which makes its home in a historic property that has existed since the Revolutionary War— began to muster inner strength and ingenuity.
“When this all went down and the shoe dropped on St. Patrick’s Day eve, we did a week of take-out service and then decided to shut down early for renovations and repairs we had already planned to make,” says Olde Bryan Inn GM Ed Frederich. “We took the time to work on our floors and chimney and do a deep cleaning … we were shut down for a week-and-a-half before re-opening for curbside-pickup at the end of March.”
In this week’s Q&A interview with Boxerbrand blog Recipe for Success, Frederich discusses how the Olde Bryan Inn of Saratoga Springs has held its ground in the Revolutionary War- era building.
BB: Please tell me about your logistical approach to the state-wide shutdown.
EF: We saw this coming before the shoe dropped on St. Pat’s Day eve, so we moved up our scheduled shutdown for renovation work. We furloughed 95 percent of our staff and kept the management and maintenance people on part-time.
We did a partial re-opening in the later days of March, and ran a curbside pickup service and added a delivery component, which we’d never done, but which we’d been considering before this. Necessity forced our hand, and we ran delivery five evenings a week.
BB: What was the up and down of the partial re-opening?
EF: The management team and I went back into the kitchen to do food prep for our dishes. We discovered doing take-out is twice as cumbersome as in-restaurant service, in part because we had supply chain problems getting the bags and to-go containers.
And due to the effects on the beef and poultry supply chain, which at one point caused a sharp increase in the prices—beef went up to $12 a pound for ribeye at one point— we had to cut back on our menu offerings. But even with all this, we managed to bring back two-thirds of our menu, which our patrons were really happy about.
We were able to freeze and buy ahead, as we navigated supply chain shortages.
BB: What menu items did your patrons seem to want above all others?
EF: Fried food has been extremely popular this whole time. Though our customers were also stocking up their own freezers at home, not everyone wanted to fry food in their homes. So, this became a big menu selling point.
BB: Saratoga Springs as a tourist destination has been hard hit. Please explain.
EF: Saratoga Springs is famous for its horse racing, but the city also has a very robust performing arts base. All the Live Nation concerts were canceled, as well as the orchestra performances and the jazz festival. The tourism revenue loss to Saratoga, I have heard, is somewhere around $975 million. The Saratoga Hilton only just re-opened after all weddings and conferences were canceled.
BB: Is there a glimmer of hope for Olde Bryan Inn?
EF: Yes, I believe we will get there, back to where we were. I’m confident of our comeback.
Our patrons have been tremendous. When we offered take-out and curbside, we saw a lot of familiar faces return. Some were reluctant at first, so we did everything we could to make it as comfortable as possible for people on an individual basis. Some people we brought out the food for wanted a hug. Others wanted to chat. And others wanted a completely contactless experience, so we placed the to-go meals in their trunks. And, we’ve learned to pivot to meet everyone’s needs. For example, we never used to take reservations for walk-in business. Now we do.
BB: As an individual, how has the coronavirus shutdown impacted you?
EF: In all this I’ve realized there’s so many things that come at you in life that you can’t control. I find myself being more patient than I ever was before. I try to remind myself to take a deep breath. And I’ve realized that every day I have the chance to make things harder or easier for myself through my own attitude. So, I am reminding myself to stay positive, because this too shall pass. — Olde Bryan Inn uses Boxerbrand’s Café menu cover line in its table presentation. Thank you!