A New Normal

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ON PLANNING FOR TOMORROW: I have accepted that I cannot make sense of any of it. Our industry will be changed forever, and recovery will take much more time than is being discussed. The only things we can do when so much is out of our control is to gain as much knowledge as possible through our resources, communicate openly and often with other hospitality leaders, and be humble. Right now, there is very little planning to be done outside of loans, writing budgets, proformas and debt models. But those tools will help with the decision making process when we get to re-open. 

ON HOW SAVANNAH CAN HELP: Rent is a big issue. Sales tax abatement, liquor tax abatement, utility abatement and an overall clear direction would help. I think local governments need to do a better job of enforcing shelter-in-place orders. I live most of the time in New York City and have seen firsthand how bad this can get. I think it’s important that other markets should learn from those who are already suffering and use that information to better prepare. Savannahians should stay home. That’s the safest thing we can do for each other. 

ON SAVANNAH’S SPIRIT: One of the core values in our restaurant group is the sustainable sourcing of local ingredients. I’ve always loved the farming communities in the South and dreamt for quite some time of expanding in that direction. We became managing partners of a restaurant in Charleston to get our feet wet and start figuring out which specific town worked for us. I started spending time in Savannah and just fell head over heels in love. The camaraderie, support, love and openness really inspired me. I was especially taken with how the hospitality community really was just that — a community. I have always been driven by what we do in hospitality, how we can better treat one another to provide a quality system for people with whom we work. I really felt that in Savannah and wanted to be a part of it.

Partners Phil Winser and Natalie Freihon, Bowie Freihon (daughter of Natalie and Steve), chef Nicholas Wilber, partner Michelle Watanabe and Steve Freihon (photographer and Natalie’s husband) .

ON THE PRACTICALITY OF TAKE-OUT: This is a very personal topic for a lot of us. Many owners want to do what they can to make at least some money to help their staff. As a business model, if you weren’t already set up as a big delivery business, it can be more of a burden than a help. Many restaurants that have switched to that model are losing quite a bit of money and stopping those operations. Then again, it’s working very well for some, and those businesses are doing their part to be careful. At the end of the day, personally, it does not work for us. 

ON PASSING THE TIME: I still work for most
 of the day: researching, doing webinars, dealing with lawyers, accountants, loans, financial prep. I also have a second-grader whom I have to homeschool now. Outside of that, it’s a lot of cooking, baking — and cocktail making. One positive thing I feel has come out of this is a much deeper connection with my friends. I spend a lot of time with them over the phone and video chatting. It’s been wonderful to actually have time to talk to people. 

ON COOKING AT HOME: Cooking is always great! I think it’s a wonderful thing for more people to be exploring and absolutely think that it will help foster a deeper appreciation for what comes out of our restaurant kitchens. I have been cooking a ton. It’s a great creative outlet, stress reliever and it doesn’t just nourish your body, but your soul.