For Rob Krupicka, it’s a time of highs and lows in the restaurant business: The excitement of launching a new concept quickly became overshadowed by the trepidation of navigating hospitality in the time of coronavirus. As the familiar Sugar Shack reinvents itself as the plant-based Elizabeth’s Counter, uncertainty rules the day – even as many in the community are excited to try the new menu.
“One one hand, it’s exciting to roll out something new that customers have told us they’re excited about,” Krupicka said. “On the other hand, I’m looking at my sales numbers trying to figure out if I can keep my stores open.”
Restaurants and cafes operate on a razor-thin margin on a good day. To add a sweeping vacuum of sales such as the coronavirus has brought to the mix is a recipe for discomfort at best, disaster at worst. Already Krupicka has temporarily suspended operations at his store in the District.
“None of those are fun decisions; they’re the kind of decisions you make when you don’t have a choice,” he said. “We went from having two weeks of amazingly good catering sales ... to having catering business die this last week.”
But despite the downturn, Krupicka says, Elizabeth’s Counter’s transformation continues. Contrary to what some might have thought, the doughnuts that made Sugar Shack such a sweet-tooth mecca are remaining – indeed, just this week, an Irish whiskey-filled variety was available for St. Patrick’s Day – and will be joined by a plethora of other, more savory, menu options, with a veg-leaning flair.
“We’ve been thinking about adding a food concept for over a year. After a lot of research and time, we came to the conclusion that plant-based was the right answer for us,” he said.
While the soft-open menu will evolve and grow as Elizabeth’s Counter settles in over the next few weeks, there are plenty of options at the outset to whet the appetite.
“We’re starting out with some great burgers and bowls that are just fantastic,” Krupicka said.
Included in the mix: The Hanson’s Burger, a Beyond patty with pickles, griddled onions, aioli and more; and the Down Home, a vegan fried chicken sandwich with pickles and slaw. Add some Brussels sprouts (a recipe on loan from sibling Captain Gregory’s) or some fries and the meal is complete.
“I’ve mostly heard really positive feedback from people who are excited to have a fast-casual plant-based place to go,” Krupicka said.
And in this time of social distancing, Krupicka says there are many ways to feast on Elizabeth’s Counter’s offerings while still staying safe. Too, there are many things customers can do to keep restaurants on their feet while facing down widespread economic struggles.
“Keep buying. What I’m telling folks is … if you’re worried about keeping your social distance, which we should all be following that instruction, then order it online, order it on UberEats … or order it on our website and come pick it up. We’ll either do curbside for you or you come in and it will already be packaged for you,” he said.
In the meantime, Krupicka says, they’re just taking it day by day.
“I don’t think any restaurant knows what to expect right now. We’re trying to survive, make sure our staff is OK, make sure our customers are OK,” he said.
Hope Nelson is the author of “Classic Restaurants of Alexandria” and owns the Kitchen Recessionista blog, located at www.kitchenrecessionista.com. Email her any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.