30 Days In: How Local Businesses Have Changed Their Business Models

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Running a small business is hard. Marketing on social media, managing  staff, and handling customer service are just a fraction of the hardships found within daily operations. Not to mention the challenges of staying healthy — restaurants are some of “the most exposed businesses,” as celebrity chef David Chang puts it. But fast forward to March 2020 and  COVID-19, it’s tougher than ever to stay afloat as a restaurant. For Hoboken + Jersey City, where shoulder-to-shoulder crowds are common at local venues, small businesses have been hit hard by the outbreak. Many have chosen to or have been forced to close temporarily. The businesses that do that remain open, however, have all switched to a pick-up and/or delivery mode of operation, juggling between the tasks of maintaining social distancing, keeping the business afloat + staff employed and serving the community. 

Read More: All the Hoboken + Jersey City Businesses to Support Right Now via Gift Cards

As concerned residents and supporters of all the local businesses in Hoboken + JC, we decided to dive into exploring just how these businesses have transformed their business models to accommodate the present world circumstances. Here are a few inspiring stories of how local businesses have been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and changing their business models.

small businesses

Implementing Delivery Systems

Even businesses that already have well-built delivery systems, such as quick-service restaurants, have felt the pressure on their operations following the pandemic. “The demand [for delivery] has risen greatly,”  says Mike Hauke, owner of the popular pizza restaurant Tony Boloney’s.“So we have had to sharpen our operations.” 

The restaurant already had a mature delivery system in place, but now with delivery orders making up about three-quarters of the business, there are still adjustments to be made. For one thing, they need to balance and coordinate the work between the many drivers and staff members {whom the restaurant has been able to retain}, and increase productivity operating at reduced hours. On the other hand, financial issues have become more challenging as the business pivots heavily towards delivery, with apps such as Uber Eats taking about a third of the sales from the store. As a result, the restaurant will keep adjusting. “It’s unsustainable, but at least it is keeping people employed and moving things along,” Mike told Hoboken Girl.

See More: Staying In? Here Are Restaurants Offering Delivery in Hoboken + Jersey City

For businesses previously not set-up for delivery, the switch to a pick-up/delivery system may take a few experiments. As Matt Moschella, who runs Jersey City’s Corto, told Hoboken Girl, “99 percent of the business was eat-in previously.” Since in-person dining was banned in Jersey City as a result of coronavirus concerns, the restaurant has experienced a new learning curve.  About a week after the dine-in ban, Corto set up an online ordering platform to replace the previous week’s phone-in-only system, which enabled the restaurant to better manage orders and pick-up times. A long table is set up at the door for freshly prepared food ready for customers. “It’s pretty much a ‘contactless’ pickup. Staff in the kitchen, customers at the door, picking up one at a time,” Matt shared. The system has so far largely helped them avoid congregating.

Restaurants, of course, are not the only businesses that have been forced to switch gears. Other small businesses have also had to be nimble. For example, Hazel Baby & Kids, a children’s goods store in Jersey City, started offering shopping consultations and delivery services covering Hoboken and Jersey City. Customers can browse the online store for detailed product recommendations, or call or text the store at 201-369-1999 to ask for suggestions and place orders. Its location right in the community it serves brings another advantage —- it is able to offer same-day delivery before 4:00PM, which beats giant e-commerce sites like Amazon and Walmart. To support other businesses in the community, the store can also deliver products for other local businesses as well.

Changing The Product Lines

When it comes to the product offerings at local stores, there has also been a lot of experimenting {check out this store-made hand sanitizer} to accommodate the change in the settings where the service is consumed. This is particularly true for local restaurants. At Corto, Matt realized that many hot dishes the restaurant served, especially pasta, did not travel well.

“They literally start to expire the moment they come out of the kitchen,” he shared. He also noticed that grocery shops have been running out of pasta very fast since the outbreak. So the idea of selling pasta kits came naturally. A kit usually consists of a fresh pasta, a sauce base, and a few seasoning and garnish ingredients, with which customers can put together a pasta meal made from fresh ingredients at home in less than 10 minutes. “Customers are very receptive to home cooking these days,” Matt said. 

About a week later, as Corto launched an online ordering system, they also added some popular, easy-to-travel prepared dishes for pick-up, such as their beloved “angry chicken” {slow cooked with guanciale and calabrian chilli} and a succulent “pork stracotto” dish {think well-cooked pork shoulder with creamy polenta}. There are also appetizers and desserts, “so that customers can order an appetizer that’s ready to eat, and then cook their own pasta at home, recreating a whole-meal dining experience,” Matt shared.

Challenges Faced

There are other challenges in trying to update a business model. “Certain grocery items had become harder to purchase,” Gabi Lombadi, from  Hoboken’s Sorrellina told Hoboken Girl. With limited access to resources, the restaurant decided to put together a “limited, family-friendly” menu that allows the community to put a home-cooked meal on the table, without having to spend too much time or money to prepare it. Many of the items can be bought in larger quantities so they can “either feed more than one person or can last a few days,” as Gabi put it. Some examples are quarts of Sorrellina’s famous Bolognese and marinara sauces, homemade pasta {sold by the pound}, homemade bread, and seasonal vegetables and salads. There are also soups, stews, and sandwiches that change by the week. With its very large wine collection, Sorellina also tries to create a more curated wine purchase experience under the current pick-up mode. There are a variety of “wine packs” at different price ranges, where customers can choose the number of bottles and style they prefer, and the sommelier chooses the labels. There are cocktail packs to make drinks at home, as well. 

Beyond Restaurants + Retail

Another group of local businesses whose customer experience has changed are fitness studios — it used to be the more communal a group class is the more fun. Now local fitness studios have been creative with a variety of social media and video conferencing tools to provide a diversified array of products and keep their house-bound customers motivated. There are live-streamed dance parties, on-demand classes at different price points, mom-and-kid work-out sessions, and live happy hours. {PS — check out Hoboken Girl’s guide to online classes offered by local fitness studios.} This is also true for other businesses that traditionally offer in-person services. The beloved music store Guitar Bar has moved their one-on-one music lessons {not just guitar lessons} online, to enable students, many of whom are very committed, to continue their lessons. Of course, those who are looking to pick up a new hobby by learning to play music during this {seemingly endless} quarantine can also schedule a lesson by calling 201-222-0915 or emailing info@guitarbar.com.

Accommodating Staff + Other Businesses

Other than their operations, another major concern for local businesses is their staff and the local community.  Many have gone above and beyond to protect the safety of their staff, as well as to mitigate the financial shocks to them. The Middle-Eastern-Mexican fusion restaurant Loquito launched a “quarantine bowl” menu at a discounted price. “All we make from the ‘quarantine bowl’ goes to our staff,” owner Stephen El-Hassan told Hoboken Girl. So far, the two Hoboken restaurants he runs have not let go of any r staff. To ensure the health and safety of staff and customers, Stephen has also installed a paid sick leave system, which enables his staff to feel comfortable taking time off work if they don’t feel well. 

The care and support is not limited to their own staff. There is a camaraderie among the local small business community, to cross-promote and help each other during this crisis. Rivalry Sports, a Hoboken sports apparel company, has recently launched an online platform that enables customers to support local small businesses at home, by ordering custom-designed shirts and choosing a local business logo to go on it. Rivalry Sports handles the production and shipment {no cost to the local businesses}, and all of the net proceeds go to the businesses chosen. “We want to create a sense of community with shirts that express the Rally-In-Place mentality that we all have for local businesses during this crisis,” co-founder Michael Ozolnieks told Hoboken Girl.

Beyond Shopping

And it doesn’t have to be just buying things and getting them delivered. It can be fun and “social” too. Midnight Market, a Jersey City food festival, has planned a special quarantine nightlife event series. Local customers can access the event’s website to get perks and discounts for take-out from local partnering restaurants, get cocktail recipes, and live-streaming DJ line-ups each Friday.

The local community is also on the small business owners’ minds. At O’Bagel, every Tuesday over a thousand hot bagels are donated to local healthcare and public service facilities, including the CityMD offices, the two hospitals in Hoboken and Jersey City, Hoboken Police Department, and Hoboken Firefighters. Hybrid Coffee + Kitchen and Griot Cafe in Jersey City have also sent warm meals to Jersey City’s Christ Hospital as a salute to the medical workers at the frontline of fighting the pandemic.

This is exactly as Mike Hauke at Tony Boloney put it. “The name of the game is keeping people employed and customers happy. Not about making money, flipping a profit or any of that. [The goal is] making sure that the community is being taken care of and that they know we are there for them, being empathetic and giving to people in need, and making sure our employees and their families are provided for and safe. That’s it,” he said.

How You Can Support

online shopping

Here are a few ways local business owners have shared as to how you can help their business

Corto {507 Palisade Ave, Jersey City}

Enjoy a menu with both prepared foods and pasta kits is available online. Orders can be placed before 5:00PM. Schedule pickup between 12:00PM-6:00PM.

Tony Boloney’s  {263 First Street, Hoboken; 363 Grove Street, Jersey City}

Pies, subs, as well as single slices are all available for delivery and curbside pickup. Order online or call directly. They also launched a pizza making kit consisting of two dough balls, mozzarella, house made sauce and lemon vinaigrette. The proceeds go to the staff. The restaurant also donates one 18” cheese pizza from the sale of each of these kits to local nurses, doctors, police, and other first responders. 

Sorellina Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar  {1036 Washington St, Hoboken}

A family menu that changes slightly each week is available every weekend for Wednesday pick up {between 11:00AM-1:00PM}.  Wine and cocktail takeout is offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Orders can be placed online.

O’Bagel {600 Washington St, Hoboken}

Pick-up and delivery is available and the menu is available on the website. The restaurant also plans to launch a bagel kit, which comes with enough dough for six rolls, seeds, instructions for cooking, and an O’Bagel t-shirt. Each kit is $24.75.

Loquito {217 Washington St, Hoboken}

The restaurant currently offers a “quarantine bowl” consisting of a protein {pollo shawarma, chipotle grilled mushrooms, or avocado falafel} over seasoned rice + lettuce with hummus, pico de arabes, tahini mole and garlic sauce. The price is $7.95 per bowl. Order here for pick-up or delivery.

Hybrid Cafe + Kitchen {110 Cambridge Ave, Jersey City}

Coffee and food are available through delivery and pick-up. The shop also announced the availability of special pastry items on Instagram

The Shepherd and the Knucklehead {1313 Willow Ave, Hoboken}

A beer stand is open at  1313 Willow Avenue, Hoboken from 12:00PM-8:00PM for food and drink pick-up. Delivery service is also available until 10:00PM. 

Griot Cafe {434 Central Ave, Jersey City}

Food and drink delivery is available through Grubhub or UberEats, or by calling the store at 201-420-9444 to arrange for pick-ups.

Guitar Bar {160 First Street, Hoboken}

Private lessons can be scheduled by phone or email at 201-222-0915 or info@guitarbar.com. Guitar, bass, piano, drum, violin, ukulele, bajo, mandelin, saxophone, clarinet, flute, and vocal classes are available. Music instruments and accessories can also be purchased online.

Amica Life {106 4th Street Hoboken}

Disinfectant products such as hand sanitizers, as well as other health products, can be bought from the online store. The store-made sanitizers are at 70% alcohol content {with 196 US proof ethanol alcohol}.  Other ingredients are aloe vera, glycerin, a small amount of hydrogen peroxide, and essential oils of lemon and sweet orange.

For a full list of gift cards and ways to show support, click here and here

What is one way that you are supporting local businesses? Let us know in the comments!

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