Local high-end restaurants adapting to in-house dining restrictions

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With dine-in restaurant service now prohibited because of coronavirus restrictions, some local restaurants have had to make a quick pivot in the way they do business.

On Monday, Gov. Eric Holcomb directed restaurants to stop serving food to dine-in customers as soon as possible, and switch to carryout- and delivery-only service through the end of March. That same day, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett ordered restaurants to cease dine-in service by 8 a.m. Tuesday.

The area’s higher-end restaurants, especially, are feeling the impact of this directive because until now most of their revenue has come from in-house dining.

“Carryout and dining in, it’s two different animals,” said Steve Oakley, owner of Oakley’s Bistro at 1464 W. 86th St.

Oakley’s, which opened in 2002, has always done a small amount of take-out business, Oakley said. But as he’s had to shift everything to takeout and delivery this week, “I kind of feel like I’m opening a new restaurant.”

Among the challenges: mastering the tricky timing of takeout orders, and packaging meals so that they still look appealing when the customer gets them home.

Oakley said his first day of carryout and delivery service was strong. Customers gave nearly $1,000 in tips which will be distributed among the restaurant’s 15 or so hourly employees, who are not working during the dine-in shutdown.

“Those are the ones that are really on the suffering end of things,” Oakley said.

Oakley said he’s able to work from his regular menu because it contains enough items that work well for takeout—things like soups, salads, short ribs and pasta.

But that’s not the case at Beholder, which typically offers a changing menu with adventurous food pairings.

“No one really wants fine dining right now. It doesn’t travel well,” said Josh Mazanowski, who co-owns Beholder with chef Jonathan Brooks.

The restaurant, located at 1844 E. 10th St., closed Monday to revamp its menu and ready itself for takeout-only service. It reopened Tuesday with a comfort-food-heavy menu, with items such as whole roasted chickens and meatloaf.

Beholder filled about 30 takeout orders, which “felt like a nice showing for us,” Mazanowski said. The restaurant is a small operation, with a staff of fewer than 12 employees.

So far Beholder has been able to hold on to its kitchen staff, Mazanowski said, but its servers are not earning a paycheck right now.

If the restaurant can figure out the logistics, Mazanowski said, it wants to begin delivery service that would employ its own servers and enable them to earn money.

Long-time local chef Greg Hardesty operates Studio C, which opened last year and offers occasional pop-up dining with limited seating at 1051 E. 54th St. just off the Monon Trail.

On Wednesday, Hardesty had shifted to bulk cooking of take-out comfort foods. “I’m trying to keep it really simple—chilis and stews and things like that.”

Hardesty said he also plans to launch a small in-house market with fresh produce, meats and eggs. He hopes to have some of those items for sale by Friday.

Some restaurants are choosing to close for the time being.

Among them was Peterson’s, a steakhouse in Fishers. “As of today, we are closed through the end of the month, with no take out or catering service,” the restaurant said in a message posted to Facebook on Monday.

Also closed is Geraldine’s Supper Club & Lounge, whose menu includes tenderloin filets and lobster tails. The restaurant, at 1101 English Ave. in Fountain Square, closed Monday.

Owner Dan Jarman said Wednesday that he plans to distribute some of Geraldine’s food inventory to his employees and donate the rest. “We’ve got a lot of expensive food product.”

Jarman also owns Fat Dan’s Deli, which has locations in downtown Indianapolis, Broad Ripple, Carmel and Bloomington and is remaining open.

Fat Dan’s menu revolves around takeout-friendly food like burgers and hot dogs, and the restaurant’s main location at 5410 N. College Ave. did a good business on Tuesday.

“Just from yesterday alone, it’s really positive and encouraging,” Jarman said.

But he worries for his staff of about 170 employees. Salaried managers are still being paid, and he’s offering cleaning and delivery shifts to hourly employees. As of Wednesday morning, he hadn’t made a decision on layoffs.

“We’ve just been trying to bunker down, adapt,” Jarman said. “It’s unknown—unprecedented.”

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