Michele Ellis in her new restaurant on Broad Street. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
With restaurants struggling through historically poor conditions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, it might seem absolutely nuts to start a new one.
But the owner of a bread-based eatery that plans to open in Red Bank this week says key lessons of the past eight months are, well, baked into her plan.
Great Harvest Bakery & Cafe takes over the space vacated by Earth Pizza a year ago. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
Michele Ellis signed the lease for her Great Harvest Bread Company franchise on March 1, just two weeks before the pandemic prompted a nearly complete shutdown of business and social activity in New Jersey and beyond.
Though the future of the restaurant industry was thrown into question as eateries switched to takeout-only operation, outdoor seating and now, 25-percent indoor seating, Ellis stuck with her plan. She hadn’t expected to open until late summer or early autumn anyway, owing to renovation work that needed doing.
The pandemic meant that “I really had time to say, OK, we’re going to start with curbside… there is an app where you can order and pickup or select a delivery service,” Ellis told redbankgreen Tuesday.
When the business opens at at 95 Broad Street on Friday, it will start out with an orientation others had to pare back to, Ellis said.
“It allows us from the very start to have the opportunity to adjust to this market,” unlike business owners who were caught off-guard and had to create new ways to get food to customers, she said.
“We’re sort of building it up, saying, OK, who’s here today? We know who’s here, who we’re trying to market to, and there are still quite a few businesses here, and people are starting to come back part-time,” she said. “Businesses that were completely shuttered are maybe doing odd-and-even day staffing.”
It helps that her restaurant is part of a “small franchise that offers a lot of support,” Ellis said. All of the 200 or so Great Harvest stores across the United States are owned by individuals, not investment groups or hedge funds, and operate as “freedom franchises, “so you have the autonomy to make the things you want,” she noted.
A Lincroft resident, Ellis is switching careers from a consumer marketing track to entrepreneur. And opening in a pandemic “is definitely terrifying,” she said, and has meant “a lot of delays.”
On the flip side, “the community has been incredibly supportive,” including Red Bank Catholic students coming from the opposite side of Broad Street to implore her to open soon, Ellis said.
Since the resumption of outdoor dining, Temple Gourmet Chinese, located two doors away, has been setting tables for outdoor dining in front of the space, and will continue to do so when Great Harvest is closed, Ellis said. Likewise, Temple owner Victor Kuo will allow her to put her tables in front of his restaurant when it is closed as needed, she said.
The Great Harvest Bakery Cafe online locator map indicates that Ellis’s store is the first in New Jersey. It takes over the storefront vacated by Earth Pizza in September, 2019.
The heart of the Great Harvest menu is scratch-made bread, baked daily, as well as soups, salads and grain bowls.
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