with Sharon Purvis
Rebekah Cribb is the Marketing and Event Coordinator for Cribbs Catering, which she owns with her husband William Cribb—who is connected to several establishments that make up a significant part of the restaurant scene in Spartanburg. He is the chef/owner of Cribbs Kitchen on Main and part of Hub City Hospitality, which includes the very popular Willy Taco, the new hot chicken restaurant Flock Shop (with two locations in Greenville and Spartanburg), and the Fr8yard. The couple are also part owners of The Kennedy. With her connection to that group, Rebekah was a good person to talk to about the impact of COVID-19 on the restaurant industry.
Q: Restaurants have been hit particularly hard by this pandemic, although the service you provide is essential and you’re able to remain open in a limited fashion. I know this is hard to narrow down, but what has been the biggest challenge? Has there been a challenge that you didn’t anticipate and people may not think about?
It’s really all been very shocking. This happened very fast for our industry. The beginning of the year was so strong, sales up everywhere then—bam, nothing. We had to react and pivot while still in major shock, and it’s been scary! The biggest challenge, in my opinion, has been trying to stay focused on growth and being ready for the bounce back after this while feeling completely defeated in the present. We have to do what we have to do to ride this out while still keeping long-term goals and projects moving.
Q: With several restaurants and a catering business, you employ a lot of people during ordinary times. To give people a sense of how much of a hit restaurant workers have taken, can you tell us how many your normally have, and how many you have still working?
Between all concepts we employee around 300 people; currently we are operating with around 70—mostly salaried and key positions. It’s been heartbreaking to not be able to support the entire team who supports us during this time.
Q: Are all of your restaurants still open currently, or did you make a decision, as some have done, to only keep some of them open?
All of our establishments are still operating at this time.
Q: Your newest restaurant, Flock Shop, had not been open very long before the pandemic hit. Does that make it more of a challenge to keep it afloat than the others that are well established?
Surprisingly no. The “counter service” model that we use at Flock Shop is more easily transitioned to take-out service than our full-service restaurants. Also, being still in the opening stages, the Flock Shop is naturally still adapting to business ebbs and flows. The most crucial piece needed to keep restaurants going right now is customer support, and luckily the newness of this concept has really helped keep the public engaged.
Q: Have you been able to keep Cribbs Catering open at all, with no catered events happening? Or have you been able to adapt to offering prepared meals or something like that to keep that business going?
We have been able to keep Cribbs Catering operational on a very limited scale, but finding a niche and getting momentum is a challenge across the board. We are able to offer individually boxed lunches for corporate clients who are still able to bring catered lunches in. We also are offering great Take and Bake/Grill and Chill meal kits for families to pick up from our downtown kitchen and cook at their homes. That push was inspired by the initial lack of options in the grocery stores. We are also venturing way outside of our typical area of services and partnering with the Spartanburg Regional Foundation to provide pre-cooked freezer meals to be delivered to senior citizens around the county.
Q: What should people know about how you’ve adapted kitchen operations to keep your workers and customers safe?
I like to think that we always take food safety and workplace safety very seriously. We have a responsibility to provide delicious and safe food to our guests, and that takes training and dedication. Currently we have increased sanitation efforts and are following CDC recommendations for social distancing for our employees while at work as best as possible.
Q: How challenging is it to continue to offer your full menu when you can’t really project what’s going to be ordered? Have patterns emerged over the past few weeks to make that easier?
It’s a huge challenge, and therefore we have transitioned to limited menus in some locations. Jamie Cribb at the Kennedy, for example, is putting together some great daily specials and family meals in lieu of offering a full menu. It’s a huge balance between keeping guests happy with new service styles and menu options while keeping costs and waste as low as possible to sustain this lull for an unknown amount of time.
Q: Are you in contact with others in the food service industry in Spartanburg? How has this changed/enhanced/impacted your relationship with other restaurant owners?
Spartanburg has a strong restaurant community, we all have each other’s backs and are sharing this stress right now. We have been able to support some of our staff by networking throughout the food service community. We have also needed each other’s guidance and knowledge to navigate the various support systems and packages set up for small businesses at this time.
Q: Is there some other thing that you would like people to know about your business or the industry in general right now?
I’d say thank you to Spartanburg for the continued support. The community has been generous in pushing for gift card sales, tipping our hard-working staff, and being very intentional in choosing to patronize local eateries throughout all of this! We can’t wait to get back to hosting guests in OUR dining rooms—I believe we will all have a better appreciation for each other!