5 Chefs who Thrived Despite Challenges in 2020

While many people will remember 2020 as a truly horrible year, we like to look for the good in every circumstance. Despite all of the challenges and hardships this year, we have seen many chefs turn the tide in their favor. It can be easy to dwell on the negative, but these positive stories from 2020 remind us that a bad situation can turn into a grand opportunity. Check out how these five chefs survived and thrived in 2020:

  1. Pastry chef loses job and ends up creating a booming new business

When Chef Francis Legge was laid off, it ended up being a blessing in disguise. With nothing to lose, Legge decided to embark on a new business venture that not only represented his heritage but is largely unrepresented in the US.  

“I’ve been making shortbread since I was a wee boy in the highlands of Scotland; my granny’s recipe has always impressed anyone who tried it. After making donuts for six years, I felt it was time to commit to shortbread and carry on my family’s legacy with my wife, Christine, by my side,” said Legge.

Shortbread Society shot off like a rocket. After countless successful pop-ups across New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, one of which was attended by actors Jason Biggs and Jenny Mollen, Legge launched his treats on nationwide-shipping website Goldbelly.

  1. Restauranteur utilizes parking space to sell thousands of dollars’ worth of cocktails   

As all restaurant owners know, a huge amount of profits come from alcohol. Located on the Jersey Shore, Chef Mike’s Atlantic Bar and Grill especially knows this to be true. When indoor dining prohibited and Chef Mike Jurusz had a walk-in full of food and beverages, he thought fast. They already had a small yet successful outdoor seating and bar area, did he have any other outdoor areas to work with? He thought of a downstairs area previously utilized as a driveway.

Using hanging lights, beach décor and island music, Jurusz created Mike’s ABG Sunset Bar. The area was an instant hit and guests even specifically requested to sit there.

 “I said, ‘I need [a CamBar®] now, let’s get it going,’ and we had it within a week,” said Jurusz. “The moment we got that new [Cambro] equipment in…our sales just went through the roof. It went from $1,000 to $3,000 or $4,000 in a day. It jumped up that much. That was huge getting it here.”

The CamBars have been wrapped up for the winter season because it’s too cold to serve outside, but Jurusz said “we cannot wait to get them fired up for our spring season.”

  1. Texas restaurant garners mile-long to-go line

Before the coronavirus, Bonnell’s Restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas, was known for serving up award-wining fine dining experiences from a menu boasting Elk Tenderloin and Pepper-Crusted Buffalo. When Chef and Owner Jon Bonnell was forced to close indoor dining, he quickly realized his upper crust offerings weren’t going to have the same effect off-premise. He tasked his chefs with creating meals that would serve a family of four for a total of $40. Bonnell would the meal of the day on their Facebook post and begin handing them out curbside starting at 4pm.

“We started handing out the food on the curb, so the line of cars shows up and we hand out 500 people worth of food in an hour and 20 minutes,” said Bonnell. “We can literally have cars lined up for a mile.”

Bonnell stuck with curbside until dining room capacity was increased to 50 percent. Although Bonnell says business has been steady since they’ve reopened their dining room, he’s continuing to provide curbside meals to make up for lost costs.

“When asked by the staff and customers, ‘How long are you going to continue to do the curbside meals?’ My response is ‘As long as that line keeps forming every day’,” said Bonnell.  

  1. Arizona Baker makes quarantine birthdays fun

For those celebrating a birthday during the height of quarantine, laughter—and cake—was the best medicine. In March, Elizabeth Armijo was first contacted by a customer who wanted a cake designed to look like toilet paper. Soon afterward, she was contacted by actress Vanessa Morgan, who stars on the popular television show Riverdale, about making a similar cake for her birthday.

Instead of copying the same design, Armijo suggested making a cake that looked like a container of Lysol wipes instead. Morgan loved the idea—and so did 1.4 million of her Instagram followers.

“It’s been amazing. It’s been shared thousands of times all over the world, which was great,” said Armijo. “I never thought this small, hometown baker would go viral,” said Armijo.

Since then, Armijo has made at least 30 coronavirus-inspired cakes for her customers.

  1. Washington Restaurant takes advantage of closures by completing overdue renovations

It’s always tricky for restaurants to figure out when they’re going to do renovations. Although the changes will make a positive impact on their business, closing their doors to customers for multiple days at a time causes them to lose money in the short-term. When Beaches restaurant was forced to close their dining room, they made the best of the situation. Transitioning to takeout and delivery only, Mark Matthias, owner of Beaches, designated a handful of employees to help him renovate their 7,000 sq. ft. restaurant.

“The remodel went great. We took the time to not only spruce up the facility, but we evolved our menu and our service strategy,” said Matthias. “We are back into take-out mode and have had the patio open the entire time. It is really quite amazing that people will sit outside in 45-degree weather to have that social interaction we all need.”

The Beaches’ patio features two fireplace tables that are “always busy” and a beautiful view of Columbia River. They also built a holiday tent, complete with décor and heating, to increase their outdoor capacity while making spirits bright.

Although not all foodservice businesses have been as fortunate as the ones mentioned in this blog, we know our industry will continue to be resilient as it has been in the past. We look forward to seeing more inspiring stories from chefs in 2021. 


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