Most of us know Surdyk’s as a Minneapolis liquor store and cheese shop. (I love that cheese shop—one of the best specialty grocery stores in the Twin Cities.) But a huge part of Surdyk’s business is in its catering operation.
When people aren’t working and aren’t gathering in groups, a catering operation is effectively zeroed out. Events canceled. The University of Minnesota shut down campus. Surdyk’s had to figure something out. Catering director Emily Dunne Surdyk had one sleepless night and a conversation with her husband Taylor, and then decided to attempt a pivot.
Surdyk’s at Home
“I gathered my team for a morning meeting to discuss our new concept, which I unimaginatively dubbed Surdyk’s at Home,” Dunne Surdyk tells me. “The idea was to use resources we have: a great website, delivery vehicles, a kitchen full of food, and, most importantly, a brilliantly talented team, to deliver meals to those working from home.
“At that point, we had no idea just how serious things would become as the next weeks unfolded; we were simply trying to capture some lost business by catering in smaller formats to those who were already working from home.”
Why not just stay closed?
“We’ve certainly considered it. But we made a deal with ourselves that if we could keep business up to a certain threshold, where we could pay our staff and chip away at our existing bills, we’d keep trying,” Dunne Surdyk says.
The overall business is strange right now, as the cheese shop is closed for renovations. The Surdyks are adding a wine bar and restaurant to their building (great timing, right?). “We have so many regulars who find comfort in the familiarity of our food, which has really motivated us to keep this program up and running,” Dunne Surdyk says.
The first approach didn’t work
“Our first Surdyk’s at Home menu featured meal packages of three dinners for two people each. Sales were slow, and after soliciting customer feedback, we learned that folks weren’t necessarily ready to commit to three meals in one go,” Dunne Surdyk says. So, they pivoted again, making everything à la carte. You can get mac & cheese for two ($12), achiote-lime chicken enchiladas ($18), a bake-at-home Minneapolis melt panini ($9), and sides ready to reheat. “Our customers seem to love it so far,” she says, “and we get large orders and small orders, but each and every one of them is vital to the success of this venture.”
The online ordering platform was key
“I designed and continue to manage the Surdyk’s Catering website, and because we already offer online ordering for drop-off catering—like boxed lunches and party platters—I was fortunate to have all the tools I needed at my disposal to quickly launch our at-home order forms,” Dunne Surdyk says.
Dunne Surdyk has a team of only five now, working around the clock to make food from scratch, pack it up, and deliver it.
“Our goal from day one was simply to break even. So far, we are, just barely, each week. We’ve had to furlough the majority of our team, which continues to be heartbreaking every day when I walk into our mostly empty catering headquarters,” she says. “They are absolute rock stars. The hard reality is that we were a profitable business that employed 14 full-time employees just a month ago. Now, each day, we merely hope to bring in enough to make payroll for a team of five. And we’re the lucky ones. It’s an unimaginable situation for any small business.”