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Salute to Service: Hoff’s Grill creates a new norm with curbside, delivery services

By Shavonne Potts

shavonne.potts@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, most customers who ate at Hoff’s Grill were seated in the open-air patio or inside the restaurant. Until the previous few days and because of the state’s stay-at-home order, the restaurant has adopted curbside pickups, take out and delivery orders.

David Houchins and his wife, Jolene, who had been employed at the restaurant since it opened in 2014, bought the business in March, just a few days before the stay-at-home order took effect.

Initially, the couple closed the restaurant, which is located at 1621 W. Innes St., until they decided how they would run the business moving forward.

“It’s slowed down as far as sales go,” David said of running a business during such a crisis.

“Our business change was trying to organize. We were not a mostly take outtype of restaurant. We had to adjust. We had to figure out how to do the norm for us,” Jolene said.

She said the “new norm” for many people has been homeschooling their children and conducting work meetings via Zoom video conferencing. Prior to the pandemic the couple knew their busy times of the day, but during the crisis their flow of customers changed.

“Now, people are working from home and are leaving home. Everybody, I think is off schedule so it puts other places off schedule,” she said.

They opted for a no-fee delivery system and have mostly had orders from Novant Health Rowan Medical Center and the Hefner VA Medical Center, often taking orders for a small number of people.

One customer, who worked at a convenience store at U.S. 601, said she couldn’t leave the store and no other restaurant would deliver one order, except for the Houchins.

The couple said they didn’t implement a minimum delivery amount, but if someone with health issues couldn’t safely leave their home and needed one sandwich, they made sure to deliver.

They also sold bulk meat to a few customers that they delivered.

One customer who had health issues bought meat for her family and a few others, and the Houchins were able to accommodate the delivery request.

“We just try to accommodate our customers,” Jolene said.

David added that they had to significantly reduce their staff. Sometimes, David worked in the kitchen, Jolene maintained the register and David’s mother would often answer the phone, which meant some deliveries were few and far between.

A couple of employees opted to be laid off so that others could work.

“That’s good to know that I have people here willing to do that,” David said.

The restaurant also adjusted its menu as the cost of meat increased as well as the cost of increased use of to-go boxes and gloves.

The Houchins said they’ve also lost out on about 55% to 60% of revenue because of events they would’ve taken part in were canceled.

The first week that the restrictions loosened in phase 1, Jolene said, the restaurant’s customer base went elsewhere as other businesses like shopping malls and other similar stores began to open.

A few days into the state enacting phase 2 of the safer at home order, the couple removed a few tables inside the restaurant so that customers could still be farther than 6 feet distance from one another.

The patio was already evenly spaced, Jolene said.

They’ve planned to continue curbside and takeout for those customers who still don’t feel comfortable eating inside the restaurant.

Jolene said she feels as though the restaurant’s patio will be where most people will flock to in the coming weeks because it is so open.

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