During the COVID-19 pandemic, many small business owners have had to make tough decisions about how to operate amid the chaos. But despite all the challenges, local business owners are still forging ahead and finding inspiration in the fact that we’re all in this together.
We recently caught up with Adam Tilford, owner of Mission Taco Joint, to learn how he’s adapting to the “new normal.”
What do you love most about your business?
Adam Tilford: What I love most about my business is the people, the team members that make the magic happen. We like to think of Mission Taco Joint as an experience, not just a meal, and it’s all of the staff that help bring that experience to life. We not only make sure the food and drinks are amazing, but we are paying attention to the music, the lighting, and going that extra step to make sure every guest has a good time. Almost all of our store managers and corporate team members have grown from within the company. It’s really amazing.
How has your business been impacted by COVID-19?
Adam Tilford: COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on our business. We did the socially responsible thing and closed our dining rooms before the stay-at-home orders were announced. We quickly transitioned to a carry-out and delivery only model. Not only have our sales dropped 70%, but the additional cost of all of the to-go containers makes it even worse. We use only environmentally-friendly packaging which is extremely expensive.
That being said, we’re extremely thankful for the support from the community that we have received, and we are glad to be able to provide tacos and margaritas to our fans so that they can have a little taste of normalcy in their lives. While the Central West End location is temporarily closed, the CWE community can still come to get their Mission Taco Joint fix at our Delmar and Soulard locations.
How are you pivoting your business model to accommodate employees, customers, and vendors during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Adam Tilford: Our business pivoted from being open for lunch, dinner, and late night happy hour every day to being open Monday through Thursday for dinner only and Friday through Sunday for lunch and dinner, and of course for carry-out and delivery only. We had to furlough about 60% of our team members, unfortunately. It was the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to do. We haven’t required anyone to work who doesn’t want to, for any reason, and we have been very open with our staff since the beginning. We are continually putting new procedures in place to keep our staff as safe as possible. It’s hard to control the actions of customers most times, but most of them do pay attention to social distancing etiquette. We’ve put signs about social distancing, tape on the ground 6 feet apart, and tried several different methods to keep people from congregating while waiting for orders. We feel like we have some good systems in place now and things are running smoothly and safely. Rain is our enemy though.
How can community members continue to support your business during this challenging time?
Adam Tilford: Just keep ordering take-out or delivery when you can. We understand everyone is feeling the financial impact from COVID-19, but ordering from your favorite restaurants sometimes will help keep people employed and hopefully allow places to tread water long enough to survive and be able to re-open once we come out the other side of this. We’re also doing what we can to support others. We have been donating food to area hospital workers who are on the front lines. You can donate to us or any of the participating restaurants at www.mealsformeds.info. All of the money goes toward the costs associated with the Meals for Meds food donations.
What are you doing to think proactively about your business when the economy is reopened?
Adam Tilford: The best thing that we can do for our business right now is to take care of our team. It was very important to us from the get go to take care of our furloughed staff as best we could. We knew that it would take time for unemployment to kick in, so we paid all of the furloughed employees an additional weeks wages. We’re also using tips collected to pay for furloughed employees health insurance and are also offering them a $15 a day food credit at our stores. We are also lucky to have a dedicated HR manager who has been instrumental in assisting our employees navigating unemployment and other issues that may arise. If we can take care of our team now, we will come back stronger than ever.
*If* you have any free time, what are you reading, listening to, creating, watching, cooking, baking, or doing to pass the time indoors? What are you doing for health and wellness?
Adam Tilford: In the beginning, I didn’t have any free time, but the last few weeks things have leveled out to the new normal, and I’ve been able to take some time for mental health. Luckily for me that coincided with morel mushroom season. There are several conservation areas that remained open, and I know some people that let me hunt on their private property. I didn’t have an amazing hunting season, but I was always able to find a few when I got out. And then of course my family got to enjoy them.