We're Open


Alewife's Lee Gregory: 'We're doing our best to hold on'

Posted at 12:24 PM, Mar 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-28 12:26:58-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Lee Gregory is a James Beard-nominated chef whose Richmond restaurant Alewife was just named Best New Restaurant in the South by Southern Living magazine. Two weeks later, Gregory and his dedicated staff are doing what they can to keep Alewife in business.

CBS 6 created a We're Open to shine a light on small businesses in an effort to support business owners and their work forces.

In an interview with Eat It, Virginia! co-host Robey Martin, Gregory talked about what customers can do to save Richmond's restaurant industry seriously damaged by the COVID--19 outbreak. A lightly-edited version of their conversation is transcribed below:

Robey Martin
Good morning. So I guess it's a little bit of a different situation than you were expecting this year with respect to restaurants, right?

Lee Gregory
Sure. Sure. Sure. Yeah, I think different for all of us. We're doing our best to hold on. We're offering to-go meals, family-style meals at Southbound and individual and family-style meals or double meals at Alewife in Churchill.

I mean, it's really the only way we feel like we can really compete and raise enough money to try to pay our bills.

I mean, that's really the gist of it, right?

Like both of our restaurant models are to try to overproduce on food, give a lot of value on the ingredients and stuff that we use. And maybe we don't make the proper cost compared to other restaurants, but we win on beer, liquor, and wine, right? And that's the missing thing.

We can sell to-go food all night and hopefully that makes us raise enough money that we can pay some folks, get some tips, have some servers getting a little bit of cash. And maybe, maybe we can pay our rent and bills and credit card bills and stuff like that.

But really without the alcohol component, it really starts to hurt based on our leases, business models, and things that we have in place for us. So it's one thing to go to a to-go model and, and try to hang on for dear life.

But really what we all need you guys to do is buy a bottle of wine when you walk in. That's where we're really trying to make enough money to actually continue to do this or to be able to fully reopen when it comes down to it.

Robey Martin
Do you think if the state relaxed the regulations on you guys being able to sell batched mix cocktails, would that help?

Lee Gregory
Oh, yeah, sure. I mean, absolutely. But it's still, you know, pales in comparison to having 100 people in your restaurant at night.

I mean, every little everything they loosen up, absolutely helps. But we're still going to come out of this way underwater. They're offering small business loans and such. What does that do?

We're already in debt.

We're already on the line for personal guarantees on leases, and all this other stuff, paying off companies, normal business debt, but then, they're making it easy for you to go further into debt to take people off unemployment, like the whole thing is just wacky.

This will take people down, it could take us out of the restaurant.

It could take me out of the restaurant, no one's untouchable through this.

And, you know, it's super grim and hopefully with people's support we can all hang on and just barely go into debt instead of heavily going into debt.

Some people have already closed down, trying to isolate their company, save what they have so they can reopen, you have other folks that are just like trying to, in some sense fight the good fight, just to have a little bit of revenue coming in better than nothing.

For us, it's been more of like, some sort of, like sense of normalcy, you know, for either the staff or for the community or for the neighborhood, Bon Air or Church Hill.

I don't know, if it does some sort of like, mental, uplifting people mentally to just know that we're there to try to hold on.

But really, we need people to support, you know, to come out, you know, to take advantage of restaurants, so that they don't have to go to the grocery store.

Things are less crowded. Maybe that's a way to look at, a way to spin it, like, hey, we need you in the restaurants getting to-go food, so you're not in overcrowded, grocery stores and superstores.

Robey Martin
How are you keeping people from being on top of each other when they pick up to-go food?

Lee Gregory
We just have them come in, you know, one at a time.

Some restaurants I've seen have a table outside when it's nice and just crack the door open and give it to them curbside. Some folks walk it out to cars, but we just let them come inside and grab what they want.

We try to hand sell them a bottle of wine or whatever we can.

But, you know, that's how we're doing, just trying to limit occupancy, it seems to be going fine for us.

Robey Martin
Do you feel like you're doing as well as you could do with to-go food? Where would you like to see more things happen, maybe Monday nights or is it the same?

Lee Gregory
It basically seems to so far have kind of patterns just the normal workweek, you know, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday are a hair slower. Thursday, Friday ,Saturday are busier than that.

But yeah, we just by just across the across the board like more bodies will be awesome. Maybe it's weird verbiage, more bodies, but more orders should I say?

I think would be great for everyone.

Robey Martin
I got to tell you, I appreciate you chatting with us today.

Lee Gregory
We'll get through it. Hopefully, you know, hopefully, it'll come back around sooner than later.