Businesses Get Creative As Coronavirus Makes ‘Business As Usual’ Impossible

Mar 23, 2020

As governments start enforcing social distancing to stop the spread of coronavirus, businesses are being forced to explore creative solutions to deal with the economic ramifactions of the pandemic.

Jennifer Earnest co-owns Chef's Garden Catering & Events with her mother, Liz, and her husband, Jamey. Together they also manage the cafe inside the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens.

Normally, this would be their busiest time of year. But in response to the coronavirus and attempts to stop its spread, all of the company's business in March has been rescheduled. Many anticipated events in April have also been rescheduled or cancelled, and May is becoming less and less certain.

On top of that, the Cummer Museum announced on March 14 that it would be closing until at least April 3.

"This situation, for lack of a better word, sucks for all of us," Earnest said. "And it's not just for us, it's for everybody... So many businesses are being impacted."

Earnest didn't want to dwell on how bad things could get, so she started exploring an idea - virtual cooking classes paired with home deliveries. But she and her colleagues at Chef's Garden had never done anything like this. So Earnest reached out to friends for advice. They gave her tips on everything from how to effectively communicate verbally to what microphones to buy.

After finetuning the process in a test run with some of those friends, Chef's Garden hosted its first virtual cooking class last week. Here's what the process looks like:

You place your order online which secures your spot in the virtual class. If you opt in for delivery, all the ingredients for the class you select will be dropped off at your home the day before or the day of the event. That kit will include everything you need for the meal, excluding pots, pans, and utensils. The ingredients come prepped and ready.

If you don't ask for delivery, you will be responsible for getting all the necessary ingredients and prepping them on your own.

The day of the class you will be sent an email with a link to join the virtual class. Staff will be available about 30 minutes prior to the start of each class to help customers get used to the technology and make sure that their camera, phone, or device is well positioned.

Classes are designed to last about an hour and a half and when they wrap up you'll have a finished dish.

Related: Local, State, And National Coronavirus Coverage

On top of these virtual classes, Chef's Garden has also started offering meal, alcohol, and grocery deliveries. They'll deliver everything from batched old fashioneds to toilet paper (limited to two rolls per order) right to your front door.

"The catering and event industry, if it makes you one thing, it makes you resourceful," Earnest said. "And that's what we're trying our best to be: resourceful."

So far the new venture has been pretty successful. Demand for the virtual classes has been fairly high and the "ALL Kidding Aside - Pizza & Pie with the Kiddos" event scheduled for Wednesday is already sold out. Overall, Earnest said their clients and the community have been incredibly supportive, but it's still a struggle.

"When you go from doing 15-plus events a week to this new format, it takes a lot more volume to get to the level of what the team was working," Earnest said. "I'm so grateful for what we have, but we do have more people that we would like to be giving more hours and more time to."

In addition to these new business strategies at Chef's Garden, Earnest is one of many business owners who recently signed on to a letter asking Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to consider the impact coronavirus is having on the food and event industry.

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.