How to Open a Restaurant During a Pandemic, Part II

The Skinny Pancake's outdoor dining signage on an older brick building in Albany

It was never our intention to open a restaurant during a pandemic, let alone two. We already had a bun in the oven in Downtown Stowe in Spring, 2020 when the pandemic introduced itself in our lives. Rather than open in April of that year, we abruptly found ourselves closing all 6 of our existing locations. A few months later, as we crawled out from our hibernatory rock, adapting to the new normal of restaurants in the age of social distancing, masks, reservations, etc, we resolved that the show must go on. 

By mid-summer, our 7th beautiful little baby Skinny Pancake location was born unto this new martian landscape and we’ve nurtured her to strength. 

There is apparently amnesia that comes with the raising of a restaurant from its inception through its infancy. For after just a few months of struggle, our dear little location in downtown Stowe gained its footing, and we were back in the romantic throws of Pancake-making. Pandemic and all, we were swooning at a prominent, historic storefront in downtown Albany, NY. We zoomed with landlords, worked on a layout, and checked the VT travel advisories regularly to see when we could hop across state lines quarantine-free. 

Fifteen months later, and our newest little restaurant babe, The Skinny Pancake Albany, is officially open! Folks, opening this location in Albany was a labor of love, but my goodness, it was hard. Opening restaurants is not for the faint of heart in any context, but most certainly not during a pandemic. 

Of course, like the good optimistic that we are, we had figured the pandemic would wrap up with the arrival of the vaccine, such that life should have been back to normal by the time our newest and only New York-based Skinny Pancake came into being. Optimistic as we were, things didn’t quite go as planned. 

But with that unwavering optimism, we waded through a tunnel of challenges over the past 15 months that would have made Andy Dufresne cringe. While there are vaccines, therapeutics, and generally much more known now about the ‘rona this opening cycle, the tremors of the past 18+ months are still apparent all across the world. Everyone seems tired.

Nobody has had time to catch their breath. There is dysfunction and discontent throughout the interwoven web of businesses on all levels. Here are a few examples we lived through that you might recognize as a headline from the New York Times:

  1. We can safely attest that the supply chain issues, inflationary price hikes and lack of staff at every business out there are not examples of ‘fake news.’ In one case, we simply received a call from a supplier being told that if we wanted the goods, we had to pay 20% more than the price they had already sold it to us for months earlier. Right around that same time, we resorted to renting a 16’ box truck to drive across 3 states to pick up a walk-in cooler stuck in a restaurant equipment warehouse because their delivery team had evaporated and their sales team could only make deliveries half time so that they could marginally keep up with their sales. In yet another example, we held out for months for a shipment of our preferred materials for our booths only to learn that ⅓ of the material hadn’t made it onto the shipping container. We have several pieces of commercial restaurant equipment, ordered months in advance, that have never shown up and still has no known arrival date.
  2. We humbly submit that ‘Ghosting’ should be the Webster dictionary word of the year. Its prevalence is extraordinary. Out of our first 60 applicants for this Albany location, we had two actual people arrive for interviews. Trades were also prone to ghosting, too, committing to work and then just not showing up or answering their phones. Gratitude is a funny thing in this context. With employees and trades alike, if they showed up at all, we sighed with relief and expressed our gratitude that they chose us to work with on that day. Meanwhile, everyone knows someone affected by covid at this point…so when they did ghost us, we accepted with empathy that there’s a lot of dysfunction and hardship out there, often reflected on our collective good fortune thus far through the pandemic, and promptly moved on to solving our challenge of the moment differently. 
  1. Ah, and then there was the ‘big day’…well, actually, there are many ‘big day’ milestones in the process of opening a restaurant. But the first day you gather your full team together to begin orientation is surely a ‘big day’ amongst big days. On that day, on that morning, with 40 people in the room together for the first time, we found out a key employee had tested positive for covid…a short time later, with as much communication and organization as we could muster, we sent our newly formed team home, reassuring them that we would do everything in our power to communicate clearly and restart the orientation as soon as we had ensured everyone was safely testing negative for the virus. We are pleased to report everyone safely made it through this bout of covid and quarantining with nobody testing positive beyond the first member of the team referenced above. 

At this point, perhaps you’re asking yourself, “Why? Why open a restaurant during a pandemic?!? With so many unknowns?! In such an already burdened and challenged industry?!”

This isn’t a ‘why’ we ask….the answer is self-evident for those of us amongst the die-hard producers of Pancakia. The Skinny Pancake is on a mission and that mission calls on us to grow. We are committed to maximizing our positive impact. Period. It’s that simple. 

In a time of darkness and societal depression, we believe we can be a bright light for folks in Albany and elsewhere across Pancakia. We are something fresh, new, clean, safe, and fun for Albany. As with our other locations, we aspire to be a place of comfort and care for folks to dine or to work there. We believe the world needs that more now than before. 

Now to be a place worthy of those adjectives above for our guests, we needed to appear organized and in control be that for our guests, we needed to appear organized and in control with our newly hired staff. Honestly, we may have eeked it out, but we know we didn’t ace it. We are grateful to this very special team in Albany for sticking with us through this launch. When you’re playing whack-a-mole with a motley crew of supply chain challenges, changing rules and regulations and whatever other curveballs a once-in-a-century pandemic may throw at you,  it takes a village to keep your chin up and your act together. Thankfully, we have a very special village here in Pancakia full of very special people who wouldn’t let the train fall off the tracks regardless of the obstacle in front of us. 

Not gonna lie, kinda feels like Rocky at the top of the staircase right now. We woke up at the crack of dawn, we gulped down metaphoric raw eggs and we worked relentlessly to get this sweet new babe of a restaurant open, charging up that staircase, fighting against gravity. 

The Albany Skinny Pancake is a beautiful space. It is staffed by a team full of heart. We’re at 1 Steuben Street in downtown Albany. Please come check it out and say hello. 

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