COVID Interruptus: How Gwen LA Pivoted from a High-End Restaurant to Daily Market
Thousands of bananas. Hundreds of eggs. Bunches of herbs. This is what the customers of the high-end restaurant Gwen LA want today.
Just a mere two months ago, customers of the restaurant in the heart of Hollywood, wanted something entirely different.
Just past where the curbside delivery sign stands now, at the entrance to Gwen LA is a retail butcher’s counter described by the Pulitzer Prize winning food writer Jonathon Gold in a 2017 review as “a display of Victorian lavishness …there is nothing in Los Angeles quite like the display case at Gwen LA.” Past that is a beautiful space in which Michelin star chef Curtis Stone served a nightly 16-bite tasting menu.
Gwen’s customers still wanted the steak, of course. As Gold wrote, “…everything about the restaurant primes you for steak. That 12-ounce Blackmore Farms New York strip you have your eye on is an extra $185,” he wrote. But you will eventually order that steak because,” as Gold wrote, “Gwen is kind of built around the idea of Fear of Missing Out.”
What was a playful and deft way to end a review, became a real fear of missing out when all restaurants in Los Angeles were ordered closed on March 15.
And then another fear set in. What to do now? Stone also runs the restaurant Maude (for which he was given the Michelin star) and a busy catering and event division, Curtis Stone Events.
Right before the shutdown, Morgan Smith, Director of Events, was at Catersource in Las Vegas. “As the news began to build of Covid-19, we thought maybe we’d have to let go of hourly people and the full-time team would work all the positions as the restaurant,” Morgan recalls. “We had no idea what would really happen.”
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED
Gwen LA became the enterprise’s saving grace. Because it had the butcher shop, it could remain open as a market. “People were panic buying and spending a lot of money,” Morgan says. “Curtis made the suggestion to put all our produce out as well.” Immediately Morgan pulled all other displays and created a farmer’s market.
“Word-of-mouth spread quickly,” Morgan says. “Then Curtis put together basket options, and I emailed that option out to his friends. The response was great, and consistent. So we kept putting it out to larger parts of our list. Our chef just started cooking and did not stop. We worked two weeks starting around the clock.”
Gwen already had a newsletter it sent out to its list for specials from the butcher’s cases. Morgan used that template and added the daily specials, the produce market prices and the cooking instructions.
“It was a way for me to put all the information one place,” she says. But the system was tough on her. Daily orders came into her email by 3 p.m. for deliveries or pick up the following day.
“All I could do was receive the order and send the receipt,” she says. “There was no customization or personality to it, just processing is all as fast as I could.” And it left her no time to strategize for the future.
A month into the new normal and they now have a website up for the market built by Curtis’ brother, Luke Stone who is in lock down in Australia. “We went live with it as soon as possible. There are still things to work out,” Morgan says, “But people are very patient. And my stress level is now manageable. Everyone can now order and pay on their own and I can begin thinking of what we want to do in the near and far future.”
“I even have analytics now, so I can see just how many bananas we are selling,” Morgan, says, laughing. “I’m amazed at how many!”
For the most part, she says, the business model they have now will remain for a while and been a great way to stay connected to and even build community. To better serve them, Morgan is looking for ways to make this business model more efficient for the short term. She’s also looking at different packaging options and add-ons such as cocktail pairings.
Morgan thinks one way as the overseer of the food to-go system. She thinks another way as Director of Events and muses that when things open, Gwen is in a good position with a loyal business community and a private dining room. But she’s looking for ways to capture the event business, to stay top-of-mind but it’s difficult when so many things are unforeseen. “Some clients are saying end of September for event, but that’s difficult to envision,” she says.
Upstairs event kitchen before Covid-19
For herself personally, she’s learned a lot from this experience. “We are all thinking differently about how we approach time. What have I been running do hard and fast at? I’d like to find a way to live slower yet still be productive.”
Reflection is something that comes naturally during this time and Morgan recalled that this time last year everyone from Curtis Stone Events was at Coachella. “We were doing things then, such a using Square, that we are doing now. We were even wearing bandanas for the dust.”
Proving that in crisis, as in life, every experience is simply a stepping stone to prepare us, even if we have no idea what’s coming next.
THREE BRAND THERAPY BUSINESS TIPS WE CAN TAKE FROM GWEN LA’S PIVOT
1. In this economy, fast is better than perfect. He or she who dares wins.
2. Pivot from where you are and who you are. Know your strengths and take decisive action.
3. Ease and solve your customer’s pain points. In this case, the needs of a high-end customer that wanted a more personal grocery shopping experience during this crisis were met.