Early March or late February, we began to get the postponement and cancellation calls for our upcoming catering events and weddings. Many would postpone and reschedule, more than once even, but not all.
Some just wanted us to give back their full deposits, and we had to bring in lawyers. We immediately contacted all vendors and marketing partners to Defer, Reduce, Delay or Stop Services.
This and the loan paperwork and processes were a full-time job for about 2 weeks; also deferred and got assistance on home loans, building loans, and all auto payments. To keep sane the first 4-6 weeks, my partner re-painted the offices and I inventoried, wasted, and re-organized all the food storage areas and we took our catering vans and locked them up inside a neighbor’s fence to prevent vandalism. We kept most of the marketing going, to generate future wedding leads. On March 17th, 2020 in response to the “stay home order” we furloughed all but 5, (2 Owners, 1 Restaurant Manager, Accounting / Office Manager and Asst. Business Manager) of our staff from 85 employee.
We received both the EIDL and PPP government assistance, contributing about $700,000 to help get us through. We brought out a new Colette’s To-Go menu so we could still offer catering, with limited stock and cooks. All other menus were NA during this time, except for future event tastings. Staff remained on furlough with estimated return to work dates, and company paid their health insurance until we could not see an end and did formal layoffs. We studied and marketed our Event Safety Measures documents and links for offsite catering, the restaurant, and events at our two exclusive historic venues. Showing that we were still doing events but following CDC protocols.
In May we started with (Great Plates) program, a senior meals delivery platform paying $35 a day for each senior we served with a Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and delivery. We did the program Jun 1 – Nov 30th when it ended, generating over $80,000 a month during most months which allowed us to bring back some of our staff. I built our little “GP Team” with our most dedicated, low-cost cooks, our business manager doing much of the paperwork and daily administration, and me doing the ordering, menu development, staffing and client relationships. It was a lot of work, for not a lot of money, but it was a huge contributor to us being able to stay afloat.
Our Benchmark Restaurant in Santa Ana was being juggled around with the no dining, outdoor only, take out etc. rules… and just barely hanging in there. Luckily, it is primarily an outdoor seating space, which has enabled us to remain open thru much of the COVID shutdown. As other restaurants did, we added to outdoor dining area, reaching into the parking lot, adding heaters etc. In early September we took back in our Exec Sous Chef and promoted him to Executive Chef over both the catering company and the restaurant and gradually we brought back our salaried sales team, one by one. As of December, between the catering company and restaurant we are back up to 12 supervisors and 32 non-supervisor staff.”
– Collette Coffman, Owner, Colette’s Catering
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