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Eric Rivera's, Seattle venue Addo Restaurant, evolved from two-seat dinners in his apartment to pop-ups to, over the past couple of years, an experience-focused venue that requires customers to book and pay in advance.

Eric Rivera of Addo restaurant in Seattle takes experiential dining to a new level in the face of coronavirus

The chef’s drive to be different has paid off in the pandemic era

In the past two months, restaurants across the country have devised many ways to stay afloat in the face of social distancing and closed dining rooms, both part of the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Family-sized meals and meal kits have proven to be popular options for people looking for interesting and affordable ways to feed those with whom they’re sheltering in place. So has the sale of pantry staples and other goods that have been in short supply in supermarkets.

Eric Rivera is doing all of that at Addo, his Seattle venue that evolved from two-seat dinners in his apartment to pop-ups to, over the past couple of years, an experience-focused venue that requires customers to book and pay in advance.

Customers would spend around $85-$125 per person for sight-unseen “experiences” that could be casual Puerto Rican meals or 20-course tastings.

That’s no longer the case. Now customers usually pay considerably less and they know what they’re getting, whether that’s a packet of yeast or house-cured salmon fillets ready to cook at home. But Rivera has still managed to find ways to offer unique experiences.

Like many other fine-dining restaurants, Rivera shifted Addo’s offerings to casual comfort food, but once he saw that everyone else was doing that, he tried to figure out what he could do that was different.

“That’s a constant drive for me,” he said.

So he asked his guests via social media and his weekly newsletter what they wanted.

“It’s having conversations with them and asking, ‘what else do you need? What else do you want? What else are you missing?’” he said.

The result has been around 40 new offerings, ranging from those casual comfort dishes to communal experiences like Ballpark at Home.

 “It’s guided toward having a baseball experience at your house,” he said. Using the two vans Rivera used for catering, he and his team deliver hot dog kits, garlic fries kits, peanuts, popcorn, Red Rope candy and beer. Then they set up a Zoom meeting and they all watch a vintage Seattle Mariners game together.

The price for that is $45 per person.

A more premium offer was an at-home camping trip, which was $225 for two people and included a tent, camping food such as trail mix, and a video that runs over the course of the evening that shows a virtual walk through the forest, the starting of a campfire and then wilderness noises for the customers to sleep by.

“It’s very involved,” Rivera said. “But it’s a different way to communicate with guests and get them excited about stuff.”

Addo has in the past operated as an incubator for other chefs to try things, and that continues with offerings such as cooking classes with other chefs, for which the ingredients are delivered and the classes are taught via Zoom.

The multiple offerings have been successful enough that Rivera was able to go ahead with plans to offer his team medical insurance starting April 1.

Addo has a small team, fewer than 10 people, but they seem to have figured out how to extend the experiential dining that they created beyond the four walls of the restaurant.

Rivera said he doesn’t know how long his dining room will stay closed, but he said he’ll keep selling pantry items indefinitely. As for the new at-home experiences, “If people keep buying them, then, cool.”

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected] 

Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary


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