The spread of COVID-19 happened rapidly, with different countries responding in different ways. On March 12, the Czech government first imposed opening restrictions on local businesses such as pubs and restaurants, by March 14 they had mandated their complete closure with the exception of take-out and delivery services.
But while larger chains and food companies may be able to weather the storm, small businesses are being hit hard and seeing a drastic drop in customers. This is especially true for a number of the independent purveyors of the food and drink scene here in Prague, many of them responsible for having transformed the city into a gastronomy powerhouse over the years.
So how are the current restrictions impacting your favorite local food businesses and how can you continue to support them during the quarantine? We spoke to several owners of Prague-based bars, restaurants, food trucks, and cafes to see how they’re adjusting to the new normal and what their regulars can do to help them survive the shutdown.
Order delivery, visit take-out windows, and tip well
Ajher Kabir, owner and general manager of Curry Palace, tells us that delivery orders have become essential to keeping their head above water.
In addition to Wolt, Kabir says, “We have contracts with Uber Eats and Dáme jídlo. But it’s still pretty bad — most of our business was in the restaurant itself. We need our delivery business to increase.”
Lori Wyant, who with her husband and business partner Dean Selby, owns The Tavern and U Kurelů, said that the while the closures came as a big shock, “We’re fortunate enough to work with a wonderful group of people who are very flexible, so are able to keep The Tavern ‘open’ for take-away business with one waiter in the front taking orders on the phone and serving from the doorway.”
Like many businesses, The Tavern is taking delivery orders via Wolt, offering a combination of delivery and walk up options. Wyant says they are continuing to operate not only to stay afloat as a business, but also to help the public.
Martin Hynek, owner of vegetarian mecca Satsang, agrees that keeping open isn’t just good for business it’s good for the community.
“We think that now it’s important to provide our services. There are people in the community who need to eat and either can’t or don’t want to cook, or don’t want to go into a supermarket.”
Jeff Cohen, owner of Bad Jeff’s Barbecue, is taking the public service angle a step further.
“We’re doing walk up orders and accepting orders for pick up by phone. We’re also using Wolt, and giving away a free roll of toilet paper with each delivery. While supplies last, of course,” he jokes.
Many delivery operations are ensuring safety during delivery including Dirty Dog BBQ, a regular at Prague’s Manifesto Market, which was due to open last weekend.
Owner Isaac Starobin tells us “Our main priority right now is keeping our customers safely fed, and keeping our staff employed.” His delivery people wear gloves and masks, delivering on bicycles, foot, and via car.
Lasagneria owner Gabriele Lanni who is Italian, is currently delivering via Wolt and operating a take-out window, but says it’s important that people and businesses adhere to the restrictions emphasizing that keeping a good distance from one another can only help matters.
“In Italy they are saying Distanti ma uniti, which means ‘We are distant but together’. That’s what needs to also happen here.”
While delivery is still the best way you can support your favorite restaurant, no one we spoke to recommended going out of your to get take-away; picking up food locally is your best bet.
Uber spokesperson Luisa Elster told us: “Safety is essential to Uber and it’s at the heart of everything we do.” In response to the ongoing spread of coronavirus they are reminding Uber Eats users that they can request deliveries be left on their doorsteps. She adds that they are at work on new product features to make this process even smoother.
“We are also looking into additional ways in which Uber and Uber Eats can support Czech communities during these difficult times,” says Elster. “As part of that, we have introduced free delivery on Uber Eats for all of our customers in Prague for the next week.”
Buy vouchers and merch
In an effort to recover some lost income during the closures, many restaurants are banking on customer brand loyalty and offering merch and crowdfunding opportunities.
Cohen says that Bad Jeff’s Barbecue is one of them — they’re offering discounts on their own brand of beer, and t-shirts and other gear that can be ordered via Wolt. (Cohen is already pushing his new tag line for the crisis: “Keep calm. Eat BBQ!!!”)
Many of the places we spoke with, including, Manifesto Market whose spring opening was scheduled to take place the day of the government shutdown, are coming up with contingency plans.
“Gift cards are another way to help us bridge the period before better times will be back,” says Martin Barry, Manifesto founder and CEO. “We will launch their sales in our e-shop.”
Follow on social media for deals
PokeHaus is still sending out its unique Hawaiian food via Wolt and Uber Eats. “We want people to be able to chillax and eat healthy,” says manager Jan Brodecký who adds that they’re also leveraging their social media accounts.“We’re really using our Instagram account, offering specials through there and through the delivery services.”
Bruce Sloan, is the owner of the Chops Philly Steaks cheesesteak stand which was due to open at HOLEšovice Point marketplace near Ortenovo náměstí, at the end of March.
In an effort to increase his customer base he’s offering a free small cheese steak to anyone who likes and follows his Facebook page from the time of quarantine until the market is open. He has also joined forces with catering company Prague Food Society to offer free delivery on orders of 200 CZK or more, a move that’s meant to both increase exposure and help out locals in need.
Don’t forget bars and cafes
It’s not just restaurants and food stalls that have been affected by the closures. Eva Amato, co-owner of Gelateria Amato, tells us how the sudden restrictions have impacted their ice cream shop and cafe.
“As it came out of the blue we had to give away or throw away some food or sell at a reduced price. We’ve also been giving away milk, since that will spoil faster.”
They’re offering thermo boxes at both of their locations. “We want people to take care of themselves so that this situation goes away as soon as possible, and then come back in big numbers!”
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Michaela Odstrčilová, owner of Karlín’s Parlor Cafe has a similar story, and says they’re offering ice cream sandwiches, cakes and coffee, as well as savory sandwiches, for take away.
Even bars are radically changing the way they do business. The Bankers Bar, a high-end cocktail bar in Prague 1, has a cocktail takeaway window. Owner Lukáš Dvořák tells us a deal is currently in the works to partner with Dáme jídlo to deliver specialty drinks right to your home.
“You have to adapt to things when they change,” he says of his emergency business strategy.
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Offer financial support
Unfortunately, some places don’t have a business that’s conducive to delivery or walk up customers, and have had to close down entirely for the short term.
“We closed down immediately, as we are in the center and get many tourists, and have no way to know where they’ve been,” says Karina Korenblum, co-owner of Venue.
“It was a big hit for our business, we lost a lot of money in supplies. We’d just ordered a lot of stock, and suddenly we were closed. We divided a lot of the food among the staff and then took the rest to homeless shelters.”
The option of staying open isn’t really open to Venue. “For us it’s more complicated. Venue is a social experience as well as a place to eat and drink. So, we just have to wait it out until people can come back.”
Jason le Gear, chef/owner of Prague 10 bistro Levain tells a similar story. “Just like that, poof — the weekend’s gone. I’m just trying to get as much information as possible. Things change every day.”
What did he do with all the food that had come in the night before? “I froze what I could; pickled, preserved and cured most of the rest, and then brought the perishables home, along with the wine.”
Some businesses, such as Manifesto Market, are anticipating government support in the form of bridge loans, applying for a loan from CMRZB, a tool intended to help SMEs survive the consequences of COVID-19.
Hire a food worker
Some of the food operations mentioned in this article got their start at Manifesto Market, which is currently seeking ways to keep the more than 250 people who depend on the open-air food stall marketplace for their income, employed.
In addition to creating an e-shop for gift cards and vouchers, according to Barry, they’ll be launching take-away and “bundled delivery” which means food from different vendors at the market (Dirty Dog BBQ, The Hummus Bar, The Craft Burger Spot, Nebu Tandoori Grill, Fuego Wild Diner, Flying Pot, and Alebrijes) can be ordered and then delivered all in one bag via Uber Eats.
They’re also looking out for the workers, pairing laid-off staff with HR companies that have open positions during the crisis, in areas like food delivery.
“Small business owners and their employees need to keep going in good times and tough times,” says Barry. “Otherwise, the real apocalypse will hit us after the virus subsides. Nobody wants a city where many ‘Closed’ signs will become permanent. No one wants their favorite establishments to shut down, or see friends lose their jobs. We all want our lives, streets, and cities back to normal.”
While there are many small food businesses offering delivery and take away options in Prague, here’s how to support the places that spoke to us for this article:
Dirty Dog Barbeque
Manifesto Market – Florenc – Prague 1
Web, FB, Instagram
-Their own delivery to post codes 11000, 12000, 13000, 17000, 11800 and 18600 (FREE in Florenc, Karlin and Vinohrady)
–Curbside pickup at Manifesto (order via web)