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Borough Bites: Collingswood eateries ‘take out’ new approach to business amid pandemic

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After months of shutdowns and uncertainty for the restaurant industry, Gov. Phil Murphy recently gave the green light for restaurants to serve their patrons indoors in a limited capacity. But for those of us who are still leery of indoor dining, the food metropolis that is Collingswood has got you covered.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants have had to rethink their business models. For some, this means offering take-out. For others, it means implementing delivery for the first time. For all, it’s getting even more stringent with disinfecting and cleaning procedures to ensure diners the safest experience possible while enjoying their meal.

Macona BBQ

Macona BBQ is located at 577 Haddon Ave., Collingswood. (Jamie Giambrone/08108)

Owner Cory Reuss said prior to the pandemic, Macona BBQ refused to do delivery for a simple reason.

“Everyone knows barbecue is delicious, but it needs to be eaten fresh,” Reuss said.

Opened in 2018, the restaurant offers barbecue with no boundaries on the menu. In order to keep things interesting, the menu changes daily with new specials that have developed a cult following, according to Reuss.

The Haddon Avenue eatery already offered limited indoor seating, so the transition from dine-in service to take out only was pretty seamless for guests. Reuss said initially, business was strong when people were first sent home from work. When people thought it was just going to be a couple of short weeks at home, they were eager to spend money.

Then, reality set in, and they saw a slump in sales. Reuss said their team is small, and so, at the start of the pandemic, they made it a priority to keep their doors open and their employees paid if they could. So, around four weeks into the shutdown, they decided to incorporate delivery into their business model.

“We had to find new ways to keep afloat, support our employees and keep the lights on,” Reuss said.

Reuss comes from a fine dining background having previously served as an executive chef with Hilton Hotels. He said they’d always put the kibosh on delivery because they feared it might compromise the integrity of their dishes.

“Delivery just wasn’t something for us that was feasible as far as our creative aspect,” he said.

So, when they went to formulate their delivery menu, Macona did so with dish integrity in mind. They thought about how to prevent dishes from becoming soggy, what needs to be packaged separately and how items could make it through transport.

Since offering takeout, some of the most popular items have been the Texas brisket with a black pepper rub and their cornbread – made with fresh New Jersey corn. He said their specials are also in high demand because they offer something new every day.

While Macona has a fairly sizable backyard space, for now, they’re limiting their services to take out and delivery. Reuss said after discussion with his staff, some members are uncomfortable with serving people, and he wants to respect his team’s comfort levels.

Given the small size of his team, it hasn’t been too difficult to up their safety precautions. He said they’ve implemented more sanitizing stations and are now doing a complete wipe down in the middle of service.

He said while there are certainly many negative aspects of the pandemic for the restaurant industry, the silver lining is that it’s encouraging best practices.

“It’s teaching a lot of people in this industry and other industries to think of a new way of setting the bar in terms of cleanliness and health,” he said.

Macona BBQ is available on Door Dash. To learn more about Macona BBQ, visit www.maconabbq.com.

El Sitio Grill & Cafe

El Sitio Grill & Cafe, located at 729 Haddon Ave., offers both outdoor and indoor dining. (Jamie Giambrone/08108)

Cecilia Jaramillo, co-owner of El Sitio Grill & Cafe with her husband Francisco, said the pandemic has forced them to completely rethink the way they do business. In mid-March and April, El Sitio completely shut down. In May, they made their return offering takeout orders for the first time.

Jaramillo said it was a nice way to restart their business, and they were grateful to their customers for their support. El Sitio opened 10 years ago in Collingswood. Cecilia and Francisco are originally from Quito, Ecuador and their menu offers sandwiches, burgers and entrees that blend flavors from Ecuador, Peru and Argentina.

Jaramillo said when they reopened, they began offering family trays, which included entrees and desserts designed to share. She said the goal was to offer good food at a reasonable price, and it was well received, with their empanadas quickly becoming a popular item for take out.

“It’s comfort food,” Jaramillo said. “It’s family food you can take home. It’s nice in that sense.”

When Gov. Murphy allowed outdoor dining, they opened up their patio. However, due to capacity limits and the weather, their ability to serve patrons outdoors is quite limited. To cut costs, El Sitio is not currently open for lunch, and they’ve had to reduce the number of dishes they offer.

They’ve always strictly followed health regulations, but they’ve increased their efforts in light of the virus. She said they’ve limited space between customers; diners are encouraged to look at the menu on their phones or are given a paper menu; and they’ve increased their disinfection procedures after a customer leaves a table.

Some people are still afraid to dine out, and Jaramillo said she completely understands why. For that reason, they’re continuing to offer takeout as an alternative to customers. Combined, both the outdoor seating and take out orders have complemented one another to keep the business afloat.

More than anything, they’re grateful to the Collingswood community who has continued to patronize and support their business during this tough time.

“When you are going through a hard time, you know who the people are who care for you,” she said.

Jaramillo said they have a passion for their business, and that’s why they’ve worked hard to try to expand and keep their doors open during this time. She said that diners can taste that passion in their food.

“Come and try our food because it’s a little bit different with a taste of Latin America and with a lot of love,” she said.

To learn more about El Sitio or to order online, visit https://elsitiocollingswood.com.

Bobby Chez

Bobby Chez’s Collingswood location at 33 W. Collings Ave. has seen an increase in sales during the pandemic. (Jamie Giambrone/08108)

While many restaurants have fallen on hard times amid the COVID-19 pandemic, seafood store Bobby Chez saw a spike in business according to owner and namesake Bobby Chez. Their business has doubled since the virus took hold of the country.

Since its inception, Bobby Chez stores have predominantly operated as a takeout business. While they previously offered a dine-in menu before the shutdown, dine-in eating only comprised a small fraction of their business.

Their model is serving prepared gourmet food designed to be taken out and cooked at home. Offering a variety of seafood, their restaurants are known for their jumbo lump crab cakes, and Chez has prided himself on sourcing the best ingredients.

“People know what to expect when they come here and that’s how we’ve grown throughout the years,” Chez said. “We’ve been in business for 23 years.”

He said they buy their scallops from Cape May or New England, don’t put filler in the crab cakes and offer shrimp that are “bigger than Buicks.”

“People come in who want champagne taste on a beer budget,” Chez said. “You’re not spending a lot of money, but you’re getting the best money can buy.”

Given many people’s current discomfort with dining out, Bobby Chez’s takeout model quickly became appealing to those looking for restaurant quality food they could make at home. Chez said word of their food spread via word of mouth throughout the pandemic, and soon, they were seeing more and more new customers.

“When this happened, people came to us and people told their friends and friends told other friends; our business has just been unbelievable,” Chez said.

He said they’re utilizing the best practices to ensure everyone stays safe for both their staff and customers. All Chez employees wear masks, and everyone has their temperature taken before they can come to work. There’s also hand sanitizer throughout the kitchen for employees.

Chez said while the pandemic has been unfortunate for the world, he’s grateful that it’s brought new faces their way. He said people have become acquainted with their business model, and he’s hopeful that means they’ll continue to return to Bobby Chez even when the world returns to normal one day.

To learn more about Bobby Chez, visit bobbychezcrabcakes.com.

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