National Guard helps save local restaurant during the pandemic
By Margaret Attridge
Bagels & Grinds, Potomac Pizza and the College Park Grill have become staples over the handful of years they’ve been in the city. Like most local businesses, though, COVID-19 restrictions put them in a precarious position.
“It’s definitely been a very trying year on the company, and College Park has probably been our hardest hit location because we’ve been in a college town without a college, we’ve been in hotels without hotel guests,” said Adam Greenberg, president and CEO of Restaurant Zone Inc., in Potomac.
While Restaurant Zone operates a combined eight restaurants in four different counties in Maryland, the company’s three College Park locations — Bagels & Grinds, Potomac Pizza and the College Park Grill — were hardest hit.
“All the stores are down, but the ones in College Park really had been on life support, and we’ve really had to think outside of the box,” Greenberg said.
According to Greenberg, the three venues shuttered on March 16, when Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks closed indoor dining, following the state mandate put in place by Gov. Hogan. All 42 employees at the College Park Grill were furloughed until further notice. For some, the furlough lasted only a week before good fortune knocked on the door.
“We closed, and seven days later, we got a call from the [Cambria] hotel sales team, and they asked us if we could handle making breakfast and dinner for 127 people every day,” Greenberg said. “Without hesitation, I said yes. I said, ‘When does it start?’ They said in four hours … and then I called my general manager and my chef and said, ‘We’re back!’”
The National Guard was staying at the Cambria Hotel in College Park to assist with COVID-19 testing and other emergency response efforts related to the pandemic. Members stayed at the hotel for a full five months, and 15 College Park Grill employees returned to work. According to Greenberg, this allowed the restaurant to stay afloat until restrictions were eased.
“The National Guard saved the College Park Grill because without them, I’m not sure it would be open today. We’re extremely appreciative for not only the service of the fine men and women of the Guard, but for them staying at that hotel we were in and us having the privilege to be able to feed them every day,” he said.
Chris Mavrikes, a senior at the University of Maryland (UMD) and former brand ambassador for Bagels & Grinds, Potomac Pizza and the College Park Grill, said he is especially happy that the College Park Grill — his favorite of the three — managed to stay open.
“I thought the food [at the College Park Grill] was by far the best in the local College Park area … There’s been this tradition on my dad’s side of the family where we would have birthday lunches for a bunch of the guys, and they would all come out to the College Park Grill because we liked it so much,” Mavrikes said.
Though Bagels & Grinds and Potomac Pizza had carry-out models that worked well during the pandemic, Greenberg said that both venues still had to add contactless pickup options to come close to meeting their bottom line.
“Both restaurants remained open the entire time. We put banners outside saying ‘We’re still here, please support us,’ and the local community did support us as best as they could. [However] Bagels & Grinds sales were down [a] little bit more than Potomac Pizza.”
Low- to no-contact restaurant options were the most feasible, said Jonas Hosmer, a junior at UMD.
“I went to Bagels & Grinds probably once a week before the pandemic,” Hosmer said. “At the start of the pandemic, when I was living at home with my family, we did take-out all the time. We never ate at any restaurants; the first restaurant I ever ate at, it was outside [during] the summer, and I thought it was a totally weird experience.”
To promote contactless pickups, Bagels & Grinds opened a pop-up bagel shop, and it turned out to be a huge success. Greenberg said that Restaurant Zone promoted the pop-up.
“We used our email marketing for Potomac Pizza and said, ‘Who wants to pick up the best bagels in the country in Potomac on Saturday?’ And the response was unbelievable. Almost immediately, we got up to 150 orders a week … and still to this day, we’re doing the Bagels & Grinds pop-up; we have not missed one week since we started in early April last year,” he said.
Greenberg stated that Restaurant Zone had no reported outbreaks of COVID-19 while it kept venues open in College Park. He noted that feeding the National Guard, first-responders and hungry neighbors turned out to be a rewarding experience for the company.
“The industry is amazing and resilient, and the people have shown their appreciation for restaurant workers, which has been amazing. People know that [while] they’re staying at home safe in their homes, that we’re out here every day, working to make sure that they’ve got great food to eat that they can pick up right on the curbside, or we can do contactless delivery. They’ve been tremendous, and we’re very grateful,” he said.