Longtime restaurateur and owner/operator of Salt Creek Grille restaurants explains why he decided to open for take-out after a two-month closure
ALLENHURST, NJ: Customers have been patiently waiting for Salt Creek Grille in Rumson, New Jersey to reopen after the statewide lockdown forced them to close their doors two months ago. While some other restaurants have continued serving customers throughout the shutdown with take-out and delivery services, owner/operator, Steve Bidgood was hesitant to proceed. “I was concerned for the safety of my employees, for the safety of my management team, for the safety of my guests,” said Bidgood. “I didn’t think that it was going to be this long, so I decided I was going to hold off and see what was going to transpire.” Following sixty days of cleaning and preparing, Salt Creek Grille started its business engine.
After 48 years in the restaurant industry, Steve Bidgood has seen his fair share of bumps in the road when it comes to operating a restaurant. He is also the co-owner of Salt Creek Grille establishments in Princeton, New Jersey as well as three California locations in Dana Point, Valencia and El Segundo. All restaurants, except Princeton and Dana Point have reopened for take-out and delivery only. “We started last Wednesday on May 6th and our guests have been so excited to see and get a little of the Salt Creek Grill food,” said Bidgood. Guests will now have to enjoy their signature grilled pork chop, coffee-rubbed NY strip steak and lobster bisque via curbside pickup or DoorDash delivery – a very different view from eating in the Rumson, New Jersey restaurant’s 200 seat dining room overlooking the Navesink River. The restaurant also accommodates an additional 150 guests in their downstairs banquet facility and large outdoor dining area.
At a time when business is usually going strong with Christenings and Mother’s Day brunches, Bidgood had to reluctantly cancel numerous parties scheduled for the coming months. “The cost of doing business has increased so much,” said Bidgood. “You still have these fixed costs. They’re not going away because we’re closed. They are still there. The cost of doing business in our industry has really changed.” Bidgood is grateful for the assistance all five of his restaurants have received from the federal government, but he is trying to distribute the money sparingly. “There’s so many restaurants that can’t open right now that are in the same situation as we are that they can’t spend it,” said Bidgood. “It they spend it now then there won’t be any left to spend on the employees when you do [reopen].”
Typically operating 365 days a year, Bidgood is eager to open up the doors after such a long hiatus. “By us, opening up to-go right now, it’s definitely helping people,” said Bidgood. Modifications the restaurant has put in place to prepare for reopening include: sanitizing the entire restaurant; supplying every staff member with gloves and masks; as well as formulating a special take-out menu available on their website at https://saltcreekgrille.com/. When asked if he would feel comfortable dining at a restaurant during the global pandemic, Bidgood is confident he can be safe while doing so. “Me personally, I have gloves in my car. I have masks in my car. I’m going to be out there,” said Bidgood. However, the restaurateur does believe the uncertainty of when complete normalcy will return will cause banquet facilities to suffer the most given the planning and advanced booking that the business requires. “I think it’s going to be a good year before it is going to be back to confidence in going out,” said Bidgood. “[Hurricane] Sandy, we had answers. The storm came, did its damage and left. This, we don’t know the answers. We’re all going to have to use our minds and new thought processes to survive.”
Although it may be a few months before parties can resume, one gathering Bidgood is looking forward to the most is his annual charity fundraiser. Each year, about 150 guests gather at Salt Creek Grille in Rumson, New Jersey to support a different children’s charity chosen by the restaurateur. With generous donations from purveyors and local businesses of assortments of food and wine, 100 percent of the proceeds are donated directly to the charity. The successful event has occurred the last 15 years and raised over one million dollars. This year, the charity being honored is the Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children in Monmouth County, a non-profit organization created to advocate for abused and neglected children. “It’s my way of giving back to the community in a big part,” said Bidgood. The event originally scheduled for April has been postponed until October.
After two long months away from his customers who he considers family and friends, Bidgood can’t wait to be reunited at the bar once again. “The most important thing to me is that they stay safe and they come back,” said Bidgood. “Twenty-two years here, I’ve seen a lot of kids grow up. I’ve seen a lot of families. I’ve had so many regular guests. To me, I miss them.”
To view the full video interview, visit Bielat Santore & Company’s website at www.123bsc.com, Facebook https://www.facebook.com/123BSC/, and Vimeo page https://vimeo.com/bielatsantore and stay tuned for the next “Thursday Restaurant Rap” interview.