We checked in with long-time local food system advocate and Market Mobile customer Rob Yaffe — owner of the popular food establishments The Grange, Garden Grille, and Wildflour — to hear how things have been going during this very trying year.
1. In three words describe the impact of COVID on your restaurants.
2. What has been the most challenging part of navigating the pandemic as a business owner?
Keeping a sense of community during a year of isolation. Listening to the new reality and feeling what it is that people need and want now, not what they did in 2019.
In becoming a mostly take-out operation [due to the pandemic], the question became: How do we keep the operation relational, not just transactional. We had to find the balance of being a service operation, while also being responsible for maintaining the safest environment and practices for our staff and the public. We almost had to become a hospitality provider as well as, in a way, a healthcare provider.
3. There have been some silver linings as well. What are some of yours?
The community showing their amazing support and patience. With the COVID Relief support for restaurants and small businesses, we have been able to continue our “Mindful Mondays” initiative, donating to great organizations such as The Pawtucket Soup Kitchen, the NAACP, and Southside Community Land Trust.
4. As one of the pioneers of the farm to table movement in Rhode Island you have a unique perspective. How has the pandemic impacted the food chain and our local food system? What lessons can we take with us?
I feel the pandemic has had both negative and positive effects regarding the local food chain. I see two diametrically opposed forces: On one hand we are mostly home, living online and buying online. On the other, there is a need for real connection, and in-person experiences.
We are living during times that feel out of our control, which opens up for local vendors, makers and growers an opportunity to offer something from close to home, from friends we know and land we pass by during our daily lives. When I drive home I pass by Skinny Dip Farm, and I know what their greens taste like from the surrounding restaurants they supply.
During these times of isolation, local suppliers provide an opportunity for the connection we are all wanting. The localizing of our sources is the best action we can take in terms of the environment, economy, and our connection to each other. In these days of late-stage globalization, producing and sourcing locally is our best path to sustainability.
5. How do you think the events of the last year will change the restaurant industry in the future — both positive and negative?
The restaurant industry that was, before the pandemic, I feel will take years to recover. And perhaps not to the level it was at, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
I feel that pre-pandemic, we were in sort of a restaurant industry bubble. People’s habits have changed. They have been home more, learned how to cook new things and spend time with loved ones, which is good, it’s healthy. Not eating out as much, they also see the financial savings from staying home as well.
But people also are craving going out, gathering, seeing the larger community and spontaneously meeting and making connections. Having fun again!!!
As the vaccinations make transmission of the virus less and less, and people feel safe, restaurants will come back to a sustainable level of operations as long as we continue the trend we are in now regarding infections. We are not far off, it’s going to be a reset. Change is a good thing.