Will Eating Out Be In Again?

by RaeAnne Marsh

Common Ground Culinary

“Throughout the last year, many hospitality groups have been forced to adapt to a constantly changing environment,” notes Christopher Collins, chef-owner at Common Ground Culinary, sharing that at his restaurants, “we quickly realized our operations were going to have to be flexible and creative to ensure we were following the laws, keeping our staff and guests safe, and being conscious of our social responsibility in our community.” 

Christopher Collins, chef-owner at Common Ground Culinary

Christopher Collins, chef-owner at Common Ground Culinary

The first step to accomplish this was the unprecedented shut down of all in-service dining — which forced the restaurants to quickly develop new operating procedures for take-out-only business. Since then, as the situation continued to change, Common Ground Culinary adapted several times in response to guidance from the CDC and local/state government. The restaurants expanded their to-go program by offering curbside service, contactless payment and pick-up, alcoholic beverages to-go, and family packs to our neighbors. “Perhaps our biggest challenge has been keeping our team and guests safe throughout the pandemic,” Collins says. “To do this, we chose to put our social responsibility ahead of our profitability and provided masks for employees and guests, brought in an outside cleaning company to routinely sanitize the restaurants, made changes to all our dining rooms to ensure proper social distancing, conducted employee health checks on a shift-by-shift basis, and created a continual disinfecting program for all guest touch points.”

The Economic Roller Coaster

“To be brutally honest, it was so bad during the shut-down that there were several times I did not know if our company was going to survive it,” Collins candidly shares, noting, “As we began to come out of that, we were hopeful. But it seemed that every time we started to gain momentum, something happened — new guidelines, surges in cases, difficulty hiring, etc. — that brought us back to uncertainty.” Just in the second quarter of 2020 alone, sales were down more than 56%, obviously not a sustainable business model. “Several government relief programs allowed us to continue operating and breathe a momentary sigh of relief as we waited to see how the pandemic would continue to unfold.” 

Changes in operations started with restructuring Common Ground Culinary’s staffing proforma to reflect the new business model: Managers functioned as curbside servers, kitchen managers worked the line, and ownership ran the day-to day-management. “From there, we continuously monitored all state and federal relief programs and used our relationship with our local bank to quickly and efficiently apply for aid and loans,” Collins relates. 

“Every day, we tried to make the best decision possible for the company and our employees,” Collins says. “There was no way to know if those decisions were the correct ones at the time, but we sincerely believed that, if we made thoughtful and compassionate choices to protect our business and those who worked for us, it would give us the best chance possible to rebuild.”

Since being given the opportunity to gradually increase the restaurants’ dine-in operations, Collins has found that guests from out of state have been eager to visit Arizona “and enjoy our restaurant scene and in-person dining.” 

Staying Strong and Moving Forward

“We are very fortunate that our neighbors recognized our efforts and rallied around us,” Collins says, sharing, “Many times I’ve heard, ‘Common Ground did it right.’” And he feels Common Ground Culinary is coming out of this with even stronger support than it had before, and a larger presence in our community. For his company, he says, “We are excited and optimistic about Common Ground Culinary’s future as we plan to open two new concepts in 2021.” And for the industry as a whole, he says, “We believe in Arizona as we watch new residents flocking in from all over the country, and welcome new culinary talent and restaurateurs to help take the state’s hospitality scene to the next level.”

Common Ground Culinary is the restaurant development company behind the brands Grassroots Kitchen & Tap, The Collins Small Batch Kitchen, The Macintosh, Twisted Grove Parlor & Bar, Wally’s Gastropub and Sweet Provisions. 

This is one segment of the June 2021 cover story “Fun Is Our Business: Survivors of a year that’s been anything but fun.” 

Click here to check out the other nine businesses.

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