The Flavor of Ingenuity
Local restauranteurs adapt to thrive.
BY: TIM ATEN
Many local restaurateurs have embraced the necessity of change in recent months; some have even adapted new business models that made their operations more successful. Recent creativity to meet a need or solve a problem proved ancient Greek philosopher Plato’s proverbial belief that necessity is the mother of invention. We certainly have local proof that where there’s a will, there’s a way—as entrepreneurs stepped up efforts to survive and even thrive during an unprecedented business disruption this year.
Adapting to new business models requiring extra safety precautions, third-party delivery apps, smaller menus, increased alcohol sales, more outdoor dining and the introduction of other amenities, some local restaurants were able to buck the national trend and actually grow their business during the pandemic.
When sales dropped 92% at Gustitos Peruvian Bakery & Cafe immediately after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis temporarily closed restaurants in early March, the Torres family leapt into survival mode to figure out how they could successfully change their longtime business in North Naples. “We have to do something. We have to make a move,” says co-owner Gonzalo Torres.
The pandemic crisis pushed the Torres family to add something new and reach new customers. It was the perfect impetus to improve the Gustitos concept, which became a pandemic success story. “We adapt- ed,” says Gonzalo’s brother and Gustitos co-owner Rodrigo Torres.
The local entrepreneurs made more than temporary changes, which most businesses had to do to survive. In April, they remodeled the entire interior to streamline social distancing, improve counter service and better showcase their menu items. They also added a take-and-bake empanadas case and a new consultation and display station to order custom cakes and view them being decorated.
To expand their family business model, they launched Gustitos Late Night, an on-demand service that delivered empanadas and baked goods to customers’ homes from 9 p.m. until midnight every day. The free late-night delivery they began in April proved to be so successful that they continue to offer it Fridays and Saturdays. They even started bottling their popular yellow pepper sauce condiment.
The strategic changes were perfectly timed and executed. The delivery service and the drastic increase in business necessitated the hiring of nine more employees, Gonzalo Tor- res said. “We got to a point that we couldn’t respond. I think the change we made is the change we had to make. It literally activated my business again and we are doing better than before. I’ve tripled sales at the moment,” Tor- res said in mid-June, noting that the eatery’s average ticket tripled because their cakes, pastries and empanadas are better displayed now. “When you walk in, that’s the first thing you see. Our cake orders are nonstop. We are doing cakes like crazy.”