We spoke to Justin Godsey of Feast in Kirkland, WA about opening a restaurant during COVID-times.
In March 2020, life came to a chaotic standstill. No one was prepared for the coronavirus and how it would disrupt the hospitality industry. Even in the midst of one of the most difficult times in the history of the restaurant industry, we’re still seeing new concepts pop up all over the country. We spoke with Justin Godsey, General Manager of Feast — a French Brasserie in Kirkland, Washington — about his experience opening right in the middle of a pandemic.
Owners Chad and Jessi Waldher launched Feast at the end of February, bringing Kirkland residents a new and anticipated french brasserie experience. Three weeks later, Washington Governor Jay Inslee implemented mandatory Stay at Home orders that lasted through May. Once given the green light to safely reopen, the team at Feast decided to give it another shot. Sister restaurant to long-standing Bottle & Bull in Kirkland, WA (6 years) and Marcy’s in Walla Walla, WA (11 years), Feast’s opening already generated local buzz within their established following that helped get the word out when they reopened.
“We didn’t know COVID was coming and planned to open in February, then we re-opened June 10th, three weeks after the first phase of reopening,” Godsey explained. “The first phase just allowed for takeout, no indoor dining. Then quickly before we were getting ready to open with just a takeout menu, they changed the reopening to a modified phase 1 — where they allowed some indoor dining. So then we quickly pivoted again, hiring who we can back.” In our conversation, Godsey described one of the biggest challenges of opening a restaurant during the pandemic has been keeping up with state regulations and modeling their business to follow.
Initially, Feast’s restaurant concept and menu included table-side elements that required a larger wait staff to provide guests an intimate service experience. In the turbulent environment of our current reality, the team at Feast quickly learned that they needed to lean into the inconsistency of COVID times and model their business accordingly.
“I’ve learned to do work a lot more efficiently,” Godsey said. “Our systems and protocols are geared toward that now — we can run leaner.” The team at Feast altered their menu and service style to remove some of the table-side elements they initially had planned for, allowing them to run with a tighter crew. Godsey noted that they’ve learned to take fewer risks with their menu. When they initially launched their menu included items like sweetbreads and foie gras that just wouldn’t work in today’s environment. Now, with Winter on the horizon, they are considering menu items that sell better for takeout, like French-inspired sandwiches. It’s been very difficult to figure out what works and what doesn’t, Godsey observed, because there’s no way to pull metrics when things are changing month to month — either from state regulations or COVID-fatigued customers.
On Nov 15th, in the face of rising coronavirus cases, Washington re-established some Stay at Home orders including prohibiting indoor dining. Feast pivoted once more and they continue to roll with the punches. With limits to only allow outdoor seating or orders to-go, Godsey expressed they’re currently looking into investing in portable heaters to sit at customers’ feet in addition to large outdoor heaters they’ve already installed. They’re considering how to safely offer blankets to customers and looking into updating their menu for more takeout friendly items.
Feast, like other restaurants across the nation, continues to come up with ways to connect with their community, but it’s not easy. Restaurants need support now, with Winter on the way and COVID cases on the rise — it will take engagement from our state and Federal governments to get restaurants through the coming months. If you haven’t already, help pressure Congress to pass relief for restaurants today by visiting the Independent Restaurant Coalitions site to send a generated message to your state representatives asking that they support the RESTAURANTS Act.