It’s closing in on happy hour at Dog & Duck on Clements Ferry Road — normally a bustling and busy time for this popular pub in pre-COVID-19 days. But on this recent weekday afternoon, only a few socially distanced customers sit around the bar. Things will pick up in the coming hours, as patrons fill into tables inside and on the outdoor covered patio, but locations like this one long for the day when business returns to normal.
“Overall, we’re down about 20% from last year in sales,” said Alli Bradley, owner of Dog & Duck Family Pubs, which operates three locations in the Charleston region with some 45 employees. “That’s what we’re projecting for the end of the year. And unfortunately costs are up ... It’s a lot to deal with.”
Those increased costs are related to items needed for COVID-19 prevention, such as gloves for all staff members, as well as increased packaging for to-go sales, which have trended up significantly in the wake of the pandemic. But one area in particular that has suffered, said Bradley, is the drop in alcohol sales after mandated closures and late night cutoffs.
“To-go business is up, indoor dining is down, but what’s really hurting, and I would say this probably for all restaurants across the board in general, when alcohol sales are down, that’s where you make (most of) your money…the bar business is really a way for restaurants to help with their bottom line.”
But there are many silver linings, continued Bradley, such as the tremendous support the pubs have received from their customers.
“It’s allowed us to not only keep our doors open, but keep our employees fully employed and their families fed,” she said.
And they are confident there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
“We would not be working so hard if we were not,” added Bradley. “... We are definitely not doing this for naught. If there wasn’t hope there would be no reason to do any of this. We’re always looking ahead with optimism and hope.”
Just down the road from Dog & Duck, Jersey Mike’s Subs is also focusing on the positives. Located in the Point Hope Shopping Center, the shop opened for business just five months before COVID hit the Charleston region.
“Spring was strong pre-COVID,” said manager Chad Yates. “The initial shockwave slowed us down a good bit, but in April, Mike’s really pushed advertising to online orders and third-party orders (DoorDash, Uber Eats) and although it felt slow…we were actually operating at about 85% of the sales we expected with the influx of online orders.”
On Daniel Island, Mpishi restaurant also continues to navigate the new pandemic environment.
“We were very excited just before COVID hit, as we seemed to have turned a corner and we finally felt confident that we were on a good trajectory,” said Allie Clay, co-owner and pastry chef. “…(But) our revenue dropped significantly in March and was at about 50% of pre-COVID levels by April.”
To adapt, the restaurant shifted its focus to take-out and began offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week. It’s been difficult to maintain, especially in light of what Clay describes as a “severe shortage of available staff,” but they are seeing good
“We experienced a huge growth in our take-out business,” added Clay. “Recently, we’ve begun more dine-in business, and our revenue is recovering.”
Sermet Aslan, who owns and operates Sermet’s Courtyard on Daniel Island, reports that they, too, have made many changes to operations since reopening in May after the spring lockdown. “We chose to adjust our business hours, closing on Mondays and reducing our kitchen hours, in order to minimize public exposure,” noted Aslan.
They also made several internal modifications, such as reducing and reconfiguring seating, adding sanitizing stations and temperature checks, and covering part of their outdoor seating area.
“Despite less hours and seating, we have still been able to meet last year’s numbers,” added Aslan. “…Overwhelming support from the community has been the source of our success.”