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Micis-interior-Credit_Sara_Schiffer.jpg Sara Schiffer
Denver, Colo-based Italian-American restaurant chain with six locations, Mici Handcrafted Italian, all closed the week of March 10 by state order.

How the COVID-19 pandemic led to this small Colorado-based Italian restaurant chain doing more delivery than ever before

CEO Elliot Schiffer, told the story of Mici Handcrafted Italian’s surprising success during the pandemic and how they’re launching franchising soon

Mici Handcrafted Italian is a Denver, Colo-based Italian-American restaurant chain with six locations. The restaurants all closed the week of March 10 by state order.

We knew that something was coming down the pipe in early March and we were just trying to prepare for it […] prior to the stay-at-home orders, we were scrambling to get any information we could on how to keep our restaurants safe. I remember we tried to purchase hand sanitizer for our stores in early March and found out that our distributor was completely out of stock, so that was the first ‘”aha moment” for us. […] We had plenty of dine-in guests all the way up until the day of closure. […] We were scrambling to stay ahead of the virus and its impact, but the information was hard to get our hands on.

The big game changer was the day our dining rooms closed on March 10th. The early days frankly were a huge shock to the system: revenues were severely impacted, especially that first day. […] There has since been a resurgence and we are now doing more deliveries than we ever have as a company. About half of our business was delivery and pickup prior to this crisis.

Elliot_Schiffer_CEO_Credit_Adam_Larkey.jpgPhoto: CEO Elliot Schiffer of Mici Handcrafted Italian

Photo credit: Adam Larkey

I remember it felt like everything we were doing was ahead of the curve. We started requiring [our team to wear masks] about a week before it was mandated in Colorado. At the time there weren’t a ton of people wearing masks so we were worried it would scare customers into thinking our team members were wearing masks because they are sick, but within a few days of us doing it every person in the state of Colorado was wearing a mask so it felt natural. Another example is when we started putting tables in front of our counter to prevent people from walking up to the counter. The restaurant inside looked so foreign to us, but within a couple of days all the social norms adjusted, and people understood what we were trying to do.

[…] Over a week or two, we completely changed our business model. We have almost no guests in our restaurant at this point. All of our teams are wearing gloves and masks inside the store. It’s a very different looking restaurant than it was a couple of weeks ago and all of this happened between March 10 and 24.

On the business side, our guests have really adjusted to this new world and so our percentage of orders placed online has skyrocketed. 70% of orders now are placed online and our guests are realizing the more they do online, the less interaction they will have with a person.

We’re lucky we had a good system set up prior. Prior to any of the federal stimulus packages released we were seeing good swaths of layoffs with little support at that time so we saw a pretty big dip in sales right away and that’s been climbing back to a level that’s manageable for us. […] We’ve seen business continue to pick up as that federal stimulus hits, but I don’t where it goes from here on out.

[…] I have heard the “people are ordering comfort food” theory and it does not resonate with me because other comfort foods have not fared as well. What I see happening is [places that] focus a lot on digital sales and off-premise ordering prior to this crisis have done well. […] Anyone who invested heavily in digital ordering, that’s what people are flocking to. We’ve found its difficult to get someone onto your platform initially but once they’re with you, then you see huge repeat business. We’ve seen some restaurants get as high as 75% of their orders from delivery.

[…] I know it’s also really difficult to build a self-delivery business right now because operationally in order to have a healthy business, you need to break through the early stages of having just a few orders because you have to staff delivery drivers and they’re either overwhelmed or bored because you don’t know what to expect. […] I worry for the groups trying to ramp that up overnight.

For us, as difficult as this time has been, we’re always trying to think a few years out and we believe the future is very bright when we get through this. We will be launching franchising in the next couple of months and expect to have a healthy franchise business. There’s going to be a wide availability of real estate and certainly labor will be a lot looser than it was, so it will be much easier to find staff in the near future. A lot of operators are shifting their focus. Obviously if we’re still in the middle of this, I wouldn’t expect to sell a franchise but as soon as this is over, I’m very bullish on our ability to expand our company and work with franchisees outside Colorado.

Contact Joanna Fantozzi at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @JoannaFantozzi


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