Ownership means flexibility
Spring of 2020 was a brutal time to own a restaurant.
Lou’s Restaurant and Bakery has packed customers into its diner-style booths and counter on Hanover’s Main Street for more than 70 years. That is, until business screeched to a halt in mid-March.
The state had ordered dining rooms closed to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Every catering order was cancelled as meetings and conferences moved online. “I think everybody realized that we had to adapt or we wouldn’t be around,” says Jarett Berke, who owns Lou’s with his wife, Cailin.
The first shift was to food delivery only. Takeout had been a very small part of the business. Now staff had to immediately figure out how to take and process more orders, then package and deliver the meals.
With schools closed and many people working from home, families were feeling stuck in their houses, probably sick of cooking, and wanting something different. The catering staff responded with family-style meals—a main course, salad, sides and dessert—for delivery. At its peak, Lou’s sold 50 family meals a day.
After nearly three months, New Hampshire allowed outside dining, so Lou’s worked with the town to block off seven parking spaces, erected a large tent, properly distanced tables and chairs, and began serving again.
Each transition required creativity and coordination from Lou’s managers and staff. “They’re the ones who did it all,” Jarett says.
Another factor keeping Lou’s afloat was that, months earlier, the Berkes’ company had used financing from the Small Business Administration and the Community Loan Fund to buy the commercial condo that houses the restaurant. What Jarett came to appreciate as much as the Community Loan Fund’s flexible loan terms was the support of the business finance team— the ideas, questions, and “Have you thought about this?” suggestions.
Owning the condo meant no worries about the rent being raised or the lease terminated. Equally important, ownership created significant tax benefits and savings they could use to weather the downturn.
The final factor: People.
“The crew here is incredibly adaptable and flexible and willing to try things and do what’s needed to make things work,” Jarett says. “I’ve got a great crew, I’ve got great support from lenders, and accountants, and lawyers. Those great people and that great support have made us successful and I think will continue to make us successful.”
This article was first published in the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund’s 2019 annual report.