For San Luis Obispo restaurants SLO Provisions and Mint + Craft, food is at the heart of community building. Despite social distancing restrictions, the two restaurants learned to adapt to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic to continue to serve the San Luis Obispo community.
SLO Provisions co-owner Dwyne Willis said the restaurant’s adapted business model began with take-out and later expanded to dine-in services. Before the pandemic, 50 percent of SLO Provisions’ business came from people dining in, according to Willis.
When California’s stay at home order was mandated in March, SLO Provisions closed its dine-in seating. While SLO Provisions initially offered limited outdoor dining, the parking lot has since been transformed into a patio area. Willis said SLO Provisions is lucky to have this additional space to serve guests.
“We tried to make it nice looking and not like you’re sitting on a piece of asphalt,” Willis said. “We wanted to make a garden-feeling as much as we could.”
Following city and state approval, SLO Provisions created an outdoor dining experience with astroturf and umbrellas, enclosed by pedestals and garden lattice work. SLO Provisions also serves spirits, wine and beer outside.
With proper social distancing, the patio can seat almost 30 people at once, according to Willis. The space also has larger tables that can seat families of six to eight people. Willis said many people are using this space to enjoy dining outside together.
SLO Provisions has also implemented its own delivery service and offers free delivery within San Luis Obispo city limits. The restaurant has opted for internal delivery to control timing and quality of product. To place an order, a person can call the restaurant or order online.
While a customer can pick up their order in the store, contactless take-out is also offered. For this service, a customer can pay online, arrive at the store and have their food taken out to the car. About 60 percent of take-out is brought out to the car, according to Willis.
Willis said students living together in an apartment or residence hall may opt to order a whole chicken dinner for $29. This menu item is a whole rotisserie chicken, roasted potatoes and a full size salad.
“It’s a quality product — It’s like what Grandma used to make,” Willis said.
SLO Provisions also offers family-style frozen take home specials. Dishes include chicken pot pie, meat lasagna, chicken tetrazzini and mac and cheese. Each dish serves between two to eight people and ranges from $15 to $48.
SLO Provisions also delivers meals to older people in San Luis Obispo who are at high-risk for coronavirus. Willis said many families who live out of the area but have have loved ones who reside in San Luis Obispo know about SLO Provisions’ free take-out service.
Many families place, order and pay through the SLO Provisions website. SLO Provisions then prepares and delivers meals to their loved ones, according to Willis.
While SLO Provisions has adapted to outdoor dining and expanded its take-out services, the pandemic has also impacted its catering business.
SLO Provisions is an approved caterer for Cal Poly. While they typically serve events of 40 to 50 guests, these large scale events are no longer feasible. Instead, SLO Provisions has catered a few small events for departments of four to ten people.
SLO Provisions’ number of employees working at a given time has also been reduced to eight people. Hours of operation have also been reduced. SLO Provisions is closed on Monday and is open Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Willis said the hours have been shifted, as a lot of morning customers who stopped by on their way to work are no longer going into the office. Most customers who are picking up dinner do so early and the rush is over by 6:30, according to Willis.
Despite adapting to new regulations amid the pandemic, SLO Provisions is celebrating its fifth year in business. Willis said SLO Provisions continues to be a success in San Luis Obispo and has a reputation of being supportive of the community.
“We have a huge, loyal following and we have always given to the community through a variety of nonprofits,” Willis said.
Before the pandemic SLO Provisions hosted ‘Non-profit Mondays,’ where 10 percent of proceeds were donated to non-profit organizations.
“Our dine-in [atmosphere] was really very communal, those individuals and organizations have supported us in the tough times,” Willis said. “I thank those people every day and they thank us.”
For cafe and coffee shop Mint + Craft, the business closed in March due to the pandemic but reopened in June. The restaurant was set up following coronavirus-restrictions, complete with a patio space for outdoor dining, according to new operator Josh Ashby.
While Mint + Craft offers outdoor dining and grab-and-go food pre-made by its sister restaurant Luna Red, the restaurant’s revenue is not the same as it was before the pandemic, according to Ashby.
Ashby introduced a new, ‘biscuit-centric,’ menu that he can pull off by himself. The menu is inspired by Ashby’s travels.
For 40 days, Ashby worked seven days a week and cooked the menu by himself. Now, Ashby has one person assisting in the kitchen.
One popular item is ‘The Sando,’ a house-baked biscuit with a folded egg and sharp cheddar cheese. The customer can also choose to add fresh avocado from Cambria.
Cooking with fresh, local ingredients is a key element of Mint + Craft. The restaurant has a produce purveyor at farmer’s markets and Ashby also began curing his own bacon and making sausage in-house.
Mint + Craft has introduced a strict sanitation schedule to ensure the health and safety of both customers and employees. According to Ashby, Mint + Craft sanitizes at least once an hour. Doors, handles and countertops are cleaned. Items such as laminated menus are also sanitized after each person touches them.
Without social distancing measures, Mint + Craft can accommodate about 40 customers. With social distancing guidelines in place, the cafe serves about 20 customers at a time. Mint + Craft also offers take-out.
“Our food is set up pretty well to be taken to go and is just as delicious as if you were eating it at the restaurant,” Ashby said.
Mint + Craft also set up DoorDash and FoodJets to offer delivery services.
Many people come into Mint + Craft with their laptops to work, ordering a coffee in the morning and lunch a few hours later, according to Ashby. Ashby said students are encouraged to complete schoolwork at Mint + Craft while enjoying its relaxing environment.
“We have great music playing,” Ashby said. “You feel like you’re in a city, but the space feels like home and it’s really warm.”
Ashby said when he took over Mint + Craft, he had a vision of a safe space for the community to gather.
“I would love the space to be filled with students and people just enjoying each other’s company while eating, learning and working,” Ashby said.
Mint + Craft is open for all-day breakfast and brunch 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day.