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Navigating a pandemic

How Tutta Bella weathered the storm

By Joe Fugere

Once we knew that this was a situation that would affect us both short term and long term, we gathered our team to gather all the information we could and then identified our top 3 priorities.

1. How do we take care of our people?

2. How do we continue to build revenue?

3. How do we make sure we're in a good place when this eventually ends?

Making sure that we took care of our people was the first and most important task. We managed to do so by working with our corporate and community partners. We kept all salaried managers and support staff in their current roles and with current compensation. Everyone worked together, wearing multiple hats, to make sure we could continue to operate at a high level, albeit with different roles in some cases.

We kept as many hourly employees as we could, reassigning roles and literally finding anything we could for them to do - takeout and delivery support, restaurant cleaning, food prep, etc.

For those who we couldn't hold onto inside the restaurants, we worked with our amazing partners at QFC to host a job fair and offer them positions at the grocery stores in temporary roles until we were ready to re-open our dine-in services.

For the few who elected not to join with QFC, we worked with them through our HR staff to ensure they were given the proper guidance on how to fill out unemployment papers and made sure they had the tools they needed to make that happen.

We realized very quickly that we would be in a steep uphill battle to drive sales and support the organization financially, so we sat down and looked at the most likely opportunities, based on consumer behavior, non-traditional revenue channels, etc. We met daily with our entire team to make sure that we kept the sense of urgency and also to ensure that we had proper communication throughout the company.

We started where most of our friends at other restaurants did, we offered food and drink packages and family meals for both takeout and delivery.

One thing to note is that we've never been big on the delivery side, our product didn't travel that well and it was just never a priority for us, so we had to really come together and put in the work to upgrade our technology, make sure our restaurants were set up from an operational standpoint, and we had to R&D to make sure we could deliver Tutta Bella quality pizza through our delivery and takeout channels.

We also joined some of the third-party delivery services like DoorDash and UberEats (we'd only been with Caviar in the past). We were so impressed with the support that these platforms provided, genuine understanding of our challenges and very willing to work with us to make sure we were set up for success.

Finally, we once again have been so incredibly fortunate to have partners like QFC in our life. Prior to the pandemic, we've offered a lineup of grab 'n' go items and take-home dinner options in a handful of their locations, including at Kirkland Urban where we have our grocerant outlet.

Immediately after the initial shock, QFC reached out to see how they could help and be a resource for us. We worked together to increase the number of stores where we offer our grab 'n' go and take-home products to more than 30 locations around the Puget Sound area.

Last month, we also launched our first ever Take 'n' Bake pizzas through QFC. There are three versions and they are all handmade in our restaurants using the same ingredients we have for our traditional pizzas. So far, the feedback has been incredible and we're looking at ways to grow that to an even broader audience.

As late as February 1, we partnered with Cedar Grove to offer some of our most popular items on their Sound Bites Delivers platform, and we'll continue to look at opportunities to build sales and support our people.

As soon as we knew that this would be months, not weeks, we formed a group internally called the "Coming Out Stronger" team. The focus of our group is to make sure we balance the needs to stay open in the short term, while also setting ourselves up for the long term.

This includes identifying and evaluating permanent changes in diner behaviors and how we can stay ahead of it and make sure that we can capitalize on opportunities that present themselves.

We also believe that the proportionate increase in the takeout and delivery aspects of our business will remain and we're looking at ways to redesign the setup and get physical flow in our restaurants to allow for increased efficiency.

We're continuing to look at additional ways to reach guests outside of our traditional neighborhood restaurants, and we've even played around with a new generation of Tutta Bella restaurants that are about half the size and of our current locations.

We realize that we still have a tough road ahead, but we're embracing the challenge and working together with our partners to make sure the entire Puget Sound restaurant scene can come out stronger on the other side.

February 2021

 Joe Fugere founded Tutta Bella in 2004 and has seen it grow to five neighborhood restaurants around the Seattle area, along with two recently opened "grocerant" locations inside QFC grocery stores at the U Village and Kirkland Urban developments.

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