Chris Wood, owner and operator of two Jersey Shore restaurants explains how the global pandemic has affected his businesses in vastly different ways
ALLENHURST, NJ: Restrictions are beginning to ease for New Jersey restaurants as outdoor seating and to-go cocktails have recently been given the green light by Governor Murphy, the first stages of reopening the state’s food and beverage businesses. But with indoor dining still off limits and capacities limited, restaurant owners fear that this may not be enough for their businesses to survive. Meanwhile, New Jersey shore restaurants are hoping they can recoup some of their usual summer crowd by utilizing outdoor decks and patio areas. Chris Wood, owner and operator of Woody’s Ocean Grille in Sea Bright and Tinton Falls, New Jersey understands both sides with his two uniquely different restaurants.
Guests flock to Woody’s Ocean Grille in Sea Bright, a block off the ocean for southwestern creations and a comfortable neighborhood vibe. The Tinton Falls location, also featuring fine casual dining, an outdoor patio area and a warm atmosphere is a staple in the Monmouth county town – inland and nine miles away from the Sea Bright location. Both restaurant menus categorized as “California Coastal Cuisine,” offer the same dining concept. Wood was surprised to see how the global pandemic has affected both restaurants in vastly different ways.
While the Tinton Falls location just recently reopened for curb-side pick-up, the Sea Bright restaurant has remained open for the same service since the government mandated lockdown began in March, asking customers to “pay what they can.” “We thought it was the right thing to do and make sure nobody has to choose between rent, utilities and food,” said Wood. The decision to continue operating in Sea Bright was due to the good frontage and convenient walk-up area for pick-up orders while Tinton Falls’ larger venue made take-out not as easy. Luckily for Wood’s employees, he was able to keep most of his staff at both locations. “We tried to balance out as many hours as we could for our kitchen staff in order to keep these guys liquid,” said Wood.
As Wood prepares to open both restaurant’s outdoor dining areas, he is aware that many changes will need to be made including offering a temporary menu and adjusting the cost of certain goods. “If we didn’t have the revenue coming in from Sea Bright, we’d be in a much different place than we are today in Tinton Falls,” said Wood, who is also rebooting halted plans to put in new front doors and an air conditioning unit in the Sea Bright location. “For Sea Bright, I think we did the town a great service by staying open and the community a great service by staying open,” said Wood. “In Tinton Falls, we had no other choice but to shut down [at the time].” Although he does agree with the state’s handling of the pandemic in the beginning, Wood admits that the lockdowns have gone on long enough. “Our patience is wearing and I think we need to leave it up to the customer to make the decision themselves,” said Wood.
Typically, Wood spends his days greeting and assisting customers face-to-face at both his restaurants, but since being limited to grab and go services, it has been a very different environment to adapt to, one that he predicts will last through late Fall, early Winter. “I really do believe that this is going to take at least a year before we get back to levels that we were prior to Covid-19,” said Wood. When the day comes when people can dine in his restaurants again, he is confident that his loyal customers will be back. “You know who is sitting next to you 80 percent of the time, I think that gives people a comfort level,” said Wood. Just like many other restaurant owners who have been on their toes waiting for an official reopening date, Wood has been preparing for what that will entail including constant sanitizing, cleaning restrooms and disposable menus. “We were always a very clean restaurant to begin with, but I think we’re going to have to be above and beyond to meet the rules,” said Wood. “There are going to be absolute changes.” Although a world where restaurants are allowed packed bars and dining rooms may be a long way off, business owners are continuing to navigate through this “new normal.” “You have to adapt,” said Wood. “It you don’t adapt, you’re going to die, it’s that simple.”
Chris Wood is a member of the “Task Force” assembled by Bielat Santore & Company, comprised of multi-unit restaurant operators that collaborate on ideas, procedures, strategies, and goals as they relate to the preparation for and the reopening of restaurants and other hospitality-based businesses in New Jersey. Bielat Santore & Company recently released its “Restaurant Opening Playbook”, a preparation and execution guide on how to successfully reopen restaurants with the hospitality industry. To join the firm’s email list and/or to request a copy of the “Restaurant Opening Playbook,” contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information and to learn how to get involved in the Task Force, contact Richard Santore at 732.531.4200 or email email@example.com.
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.