Why Broders’ Went from Curbside to Take-and-Bake Only

Jason talks with Charlie Broder, of the Minneapolis Italian mainstay, about the collapse, the new ideas, and the safety-first strategies of restaurants right now

Photo by TJ Turner

In the pantheon of iconic Twin Cities restaurant families, few compare to the Broders’. They essentially own the corner of 50th and Penn in south Minneapolis, our own Little Italy. So, when restaurants closed dine-in seating, Broders’ tried to do hot food curbside, and they had a huge response from the neighborhood. People love Broders’ and wanted to love them up. Unfortunately, they were so successful it brought up concerns about safety and health during the COVID-19 outbreak. What do you do when people are closely lined up on the sidewalk? What do you do about tiny kitchens where staff is crammed in? If you’re Charlie Broder, you pivot.

Take-and-Make 

“Broders’ started as a ‘pastaficio,’ or pasta store, and we’re going way back to our beginning as we rebuild the company,” Broder tells me. They’re serving $25 pasta kits with fresh pasta by the pound, pints of fresh house sauces and grated cheese. They’ll also serve a $25 pizza kit with dough, sauce, cheese, sausage, pepperoni, and olives. “In addition to those items that are available in ‘kit’ form and individually, we have a plethora of pantry and grocery items available both on our app and shipped or picked up from our online store,” he says.

Staying Closed Wasn’t Viable

“It is our assumption that curbside or car-side pickup is here to stay for a very long time and that our previous operations will not reopen the way they were for an equally long time, if at all,” Broder explains. Think about that. Broder saying that Broders’, as we have known it, may not reopen. “The landscape has fundamentally changed, and this is our first step into the new reality, and we’re taking it slow and simple. One day at a time. That has been the theme over the last few weeks,” Broder says.

The Collapse

“It’s hard to communicate to the public what the week of March 16th was to many, if not all, restaurateurs. During the beginning of that week, everything started to collapse,” Broder says. The goal was to create a concept for takeout that would let every employee be paid in full, with all paid time off and health benefits through April. Most employees were laid off. They succeeded, sort of.

“During that week, we quickly realized that how we were operating was dangerous. Just the volume of staff it takes to produce for the volume we put out was apparent as a risk, but also the size of the menu, the way people were picking up food, walking up to the restaurant, etc.,” he says.

They knew they had to close and figure out a new path. “That’s when the grief set in. It was, and has been, like a death in the family. The unknown is very hard to navigate.”

Lessons Learned: Safety First

To prioritize safety, they removed hot food from the equation. “It takes far less people to prep items, package them, and send them out if all that work can be spread out over time. It also allows for only a few people in the space at any one time, and we all have lots of room to be able to be distant,” he says. The thought was to run a spot that would have cost-conscious, easy-to-prep, family items. “We’re launching this whole thing with six people total. Two of those are extremely part time. As we can, we’ll be adding items, maybe hot foods, maybe this and that, but what remains is how do we do this safely.”

Technology Platform Already Existed

Broders’ was in better shape than most restaurants: They already had technology platforms that are proving critical to running operations. “We launched our Broders’ app and online ordering the week prior to closing, so at least we had that going for us. We’ve also had the online store for years. That is where people can get tons of specialty and unique Italian pantry items shipped locally, nationally, or, now, for pickup during our pickup times (Tuesday through Saturday, 2 to 6:30 p.m.).”

The Economics Are Terrible

“This is totally uncharted territory. Without federal, state, and local support from everyone, guests, vendors, landlords, representatives, the CARE act, etc.—we won’t make it. However, with all of those support options and people being so helpful during this time, we see a way to weather this storm,” Broder says. “The goal that we have for this relaunch is to get cash flow moving again so we can show our vendors, landlords, and the public that we’re committed to our place in the community and industry.”

See the Broders’ take-and-make menu at broders.com

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