Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours pivoted its business model, pivoted back and unleashed a slew of precautions to stay safe and open through the coronavirus pandemic.
The LGBTQ-owned restaurant on Huff Road in West Midtown was doing “really bad” in the early days of the pandemic, and it has scratched and clawed to regain business ever since, said owner Deborah VanTrece (photo).
“We were probably making 10 percent of what we used to, and I’m happy to say we’re up to about 60 percent now,” she told Project Q Atlanta. “We’re definitely doing better, but still a 40 percent loss is a huge loss for a business that doesn’t have high markups in the first place.”
Twisted Soul closed during the first week of March and started offering takeout later that month. VanTrece partnered with Mercedes Benz of Buckhead to provide free meals for healthcare workers at Grady Health System. The restaurant also offered free meals for service industry workers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
“We did that for six weeks or so, then we came up with the idea to do a pop-up based on a business plan that we had made years prior that we were just on hold with,” VanTrece said.
And so Twisted Soul temporarily became A Different Kind of Chick, featuring a smaller menu geared for takeout. In late June, it was back to Twisted Soul when the dining room reopened for the first time in over three months.
The safety measures included installing partitions throughout the restaurant and a UV air filtration system that cost $7,400, VanTrece said. Half the seating was removed, employees wear masks, hand sanitizer is located throughout the restaurant, and customers are asked to wear masks except when at their tables.
Customers and staff have reacted positively to the measures, VanTrece said.
“We feel like we have gone beyond what the average restauranteurs are doing, and they’re very happy about that because it’s like someone cares about their safety,” she said. “It’s a sense of security knowing what we’ve put in place.”
But the business continues to struggle.
“We’re still with an open dining room with half of the seating, all seating areas are partitioned off and six feet apart, and we are struggling to survive,”VanTrece said.
Most of the restaurant’s 25 employees were laid off or left voluntarily.
“We did try to get all of our employees back doing something, but a lot of them opted not to come back, some for fear and some just because they were drawing unemployment and felt like it was a better deal than what we could offer,” VanTrece said.
“We are actually short-staffed right now and have been actively trying to hire new people for probably the last couple of months since we opened,” she added.
The restaurant received a Payroll Protection Program loan through the federal Small Business Administration.
“But it’s probably amounted to a little over a month’s worth of actual sales for us, so we are trying to stretch that as much as we possibly can,” VanTrece said.
The restaurant also received two grants – $15,000 from the James Beard Foundation and $5,000 from online marketplace We Buy Black. The grants have been “extremely helpful,” VanTrece said.
“We take each day at a time. We just hope it all works itself out. You’re still up in the air for how long you can really hold on though,” she added.
This story is made possible through a grant from Facebook Journalism Project's COVID-19 Local News Relief Fund.