When faced with a perceived threat the brain instinctively triggers an acute fight-or-flight response. As COVID made its invasion into the U.S. early this year and restaurant owners were faced with shutdowns and dining restrictions (the likes of which have yet to slow down), every operator had to make a choice: stay; fight like hell for their businesses or, shut their doors for good.
Joe Frillman, Executive Chef & Owner of Daisies, Chicago’s Logan Square, chose the former. He took the challenge and swiftly turned it into an opportunity. Throughout the vast changes that Daisies has undergone the last 9 months, Joe has stayed open-minded, open-spirited, and nimble; The outcome? Roughly 2 weeks ago Joe and his team nearly matched their year-over-year sales from the previous week, the previous year. Don’t get us wrong here; we’re not saying this has been an easy feat for Joe, and that the creativity headache he’s amassed might just be permanent, but because he stayed, and because he fought, his business is fueled for growth beyond the pandemic and his trajectory has been forever changed. Let’s take a look at how he’s done it.
A BIT ABOUT DAISIES
To say that Joe’s a family man would be an understatement. He’s worked in Italian-inspired restaurants throughout his entire career, and after his brother, Tim Frillman took over some family property in 2012, Joe convinced Tim to go into farming to help provide fresh produce for restaurants, who now owns and operates Frillman Farms in St. Joseph, Michigan. Fast forward to 2017 and Joe opens Daisies. Sourcing his brother’s locally grown vegetables as the highlight, Daisies was concepted as Italian inspired through the lens of the Midwest; vegetable-focused and pasta-driven – A restaurant with a philosophy; eat what’s fresh and eat what’s in season, so Joe’s menu changes throughout the year depending upon his brother’s crop. Daisies is a true labor of love. Stemming from the mutual respect and relationship of two brothers helping each other to grow, to the traditional, hand-made shapes of each style of pasta on the menu, there’s no shortage of passion and creativity when it comes to Joe Frillman.
CREATIVE WAYS TO INCREASE REVENUE STREAMS DURING THE SHUTDOWNS
In Chicago when businesses were initially shut down, it was just the beginning of the growing season. The crops had already been planted for the most part and regardless of COVID they would need to be harvested. Unfortunately, because of the closures ranging from restaurants to farmers markets, Tim Frillman didn’t have many outlets for his produce and found himself in a position slated for loss, where so many others were; including his brother Joe, who was forced to pivot from dine-in, to takeout and delivery only, to then temporarily closing his doors. Not one to shy away from a challenge or the desire to help out family, Joe used his “downtime” to transform into fight-mode and adapt the Daisies business model to do more than just survive, he was going to make sure they thrived.
1) IN-RESTAURANT MARKET
As the first order of business, Joe found himself looking back at his initial business plan with his brother, where they had hopes to open a grocery farm stand as a direct outlet for Tim’s product; they simply didn’t have the resources or space to do it when Daisies was initially opening. Knowing that grocery stores were considered an essential service, and with help from the PPP Loan and EIDL that enabled them to reallocate resources, it was the prime opportunity to open a grocery store inside the restaurant. They already had their retail food license which covers a grocery store, so they could immediately retail to the general public without any other licensing inside Chicago.
Joe and his brother built out the entire backroom of Daisies to act as a standalone grocery store, Daisies Market. They installed refrigeration display coolers that would allow them to sell Joe’s in-house hand-made pasta as well as Tim’s produce, and they also sell bottled cocktails, pasta sauces, dips, gravy, stocks, you name it they’ve got it. Daisies quickly became a boutique grocer, and a grocer who spurred community growth in a time of need; Patrons can get products from local purveyors in the neighborhood, who aren’t charged shelf space. On Sundays they’ve turned the market into a farmer’s market where vendors can come and sell their products and the community can safely gather to shop.
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2) GRAB-AND-GO LUNCH
Another idea that was able to come to fruition which was always on the business plan docket was lunch. The original idea was to have a sit-down lunch with more table service, but because of COVID that thought was scrapped and turned into a grab-and-go deli-style operation. They typically rotate about 8 sandwiches and cold salads. The farm still runs through everything they drive, and they use local bakers in the effort of helping to sustain their businesses as well.
3) MEAL KITS
Not to overlook the digital aspect that is now so prevalent with restaurants operating during COVID, Joe created meal kits that people could purchase online. Everything is cut and ready to go, instructions are included, and diners get to cook a restaurant-quality meal in the comfort of their own homes. Joe was able to use Thanksgiving as the catalyst to light his meal kit sales on fire. The Daisies Thanksgiving Kits included sous vide turkeys with reheating instructions, sides that were either baked and ready to be reheated (or the option for diners to bake the sides themselves), starters, and desserts. Oh, and did we mention wine packages too? Two days into offering these Thanksgiving Kits they sold out. With this level of creativity Daisies will parlay their meal kits into a monthly subscription home delivery service. The kits are also going to be available in Daisies Market for pick-up.
With all of the additional revenue streams that Joe has been able to execute, they’ve built a solid foundation to get through the pandemic and continue to build on these efforts long after the pandemic is gone. They now have a sandwich restaurant, an in-home meal delivery service, meal-kits for pick-up, an in-restaurant grocery store, and hot off the press… a wholesale fish company where they’ll be able to provide fresh fish. Moral of the story? Fight for your businesses. Get creative, think outside the box, and turn your challenges into opportunities.
*NOTE: With new restrictions placed on Chicago Daisies Market is currently closed for in-person dining and shopping but they are open for walk-up window, takeout & delivery service – in-person will reopen as health and safety guidelines permit.