Food In-Focus: The Ecosystem Of A Restaurant

COVER PHOTO: Local produce, a sandwich from Cabalar Meat Co., and an employee at Per Diem

This story originally appeared in the Spring 2021 Thriving Magazine and was written by Molly Crouser, Special Events Manager at the Lancaster Chamber. Read the entire Thriving Magazine online here.

In the last year of the Pandemic, restaurants, along with many other industries, took incredible risks to pivot their normal practices to accommodate safety guidelines in an ever-changing landscape. They were focused on being open for the benefit of our community and every individual that touches the restaurant industry. When we think about the restaurant itself, we think of the brick and mortar experience. But behind that plate of food, that server, or host, the bartender, the chef – is an entire system of other Lancastrians who economically rely on the success of that restaurant. That web of diverse businesses and industries has been deemed the “Restaurant Ecosystem” and analyzing this system is an important exercise in recognizing this industry’s particular impact on our greater community.

ABOVE: Ben Barr from Barr’s Produce works on a variety of crops on the farm

FROM FARM TO TABLE

Often, we forget that our favorite flavors and dishes go on quite a journey to get to our table. To talk about the impact of locally grown and sourced produce and how it makes its way to your plate, we touched base with Ben Barr of Barr’s Farms to learn more!
WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF THE RESTAURANT INDUSTRY FOR YOUR BUSINESS?
We rely on the restaurant industry for our business, as it makes up half of our produce business. This ranges from restaurants getting orders for delivery, pre-order to pick up at our Lancaster Central Market stand, or regular shopping at our stand for their produce.
HOW IS YOUR BUSINESS/FARM CONNECTED TO THE RESTAURANTS IN OUR COUNTY? WHAT DO YOU DO FOR THEM?
We base our planting on the restaurants’ needs and keep in regular communication about growth and harvest with them. We provide fresh, homegrown, in-season produce, and also source unique produce from all over the world for our customers year-round or for produce not found locally. We also value our relationships with our customers, including restaurants; building a personal relationship is important to us.
WHAT DOES THE IMPACT MEAN TO YOUR BUSINESS WHEN THE COMMUNITY SUPPORTS RESTAURANTS?
When the community supports restaurants, they are not only supporting a local restaurant, but they are supporting the many small businesses that supply that local restaurant. We all support each other, and it’s great doing business with people you care about. That is what makes it all worth it.

ABOVE: A bartender pouring a cocktail at Per Diem – Restaurant in Lititz

SUPPORTING ENTREPRENEURS

The spark for the theme for this article comes from Josh Funk, owner of TFB Hospitality (the likes of Annie Bailey’s, Per Diem and more) who recently mentioned the restaurant ecosystem in a local merchant’s meeting. Josh is a local entrepreneur and has extensive insight and passion into what it means to be a part of the fabric of Lancaster’s culinary experience.
WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR ROLE AS THE OWNER AT A RESTAURANT?
For our 6 different locations I have primarily corporate functions like Finance, Accounting, HR, Payroll, and Marketing. Additionally, I work with each business unit to help develop operation strategies and refine current practices to stay ahead of trends in our industry.
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR IN THE RESTAURANT INDUSTRY?
Wow, where do I start? Most people don’t realize all the work and labor it takes to make a successful restaurant. The number of people it takes to get just one plate to the table, let alone 500 in a day, is a remarkable feat in logistics. It cannot be solved with technology or a piece of equipment, it takes people and passion. WHAT DOES YOUR WORK AS AN OWNER IMPACT IN OUR COMMUNITY?
Growing up in Lancaster, I feel a deep responsibility to our community. Not only in providing good-paying jobs that provide benefits and a work-life balance but supporting other local businesses to help keep the dollars my company is spending in Lancaster. Over the pandemic, we launched our community feeding program, TFB Cares. The program has helped feed over 2,000 individuals in 2020 and is funded in part by TFB Hospitality Group, local businesses, and diners at each of our restaurants. In launching the program, we created a crowd-sourced funding model and add 1% to each check at all our restaurants to assist in funding this program. Visit tfbhospitality.com/tfbcares for more information.

ABOVE: A delicious sandwich from Cabalar Meat Co – Restaurant downtown Lancaster

WORKFORCE & RESTAURANTS

Steve Cabalar, owner of Cabalar Meat Co., breaks down what it’s like for him and his employees during COVID-19 and beyond, and the experience of his staff as hospitality workforce.

WHAT DID RETAINING EMPLOYEES AND GROWTH DURING THE PANDEMIC MEAN TO YOU AS A BUSINESS OWNER?
I feel privileged to have such a supportive customer base that has shown so much compassion throughout this pandemic. The challenges workers were experiencing with delayed unemployment benefits and having to search for jobs in new career paths – I am glad my crew did not have to experience that. I am humbled to have such a hard-working team that has gone above and beyond the norm in dealing with the challenges this pandemic has thrown their way.
CAN YOU TELL US WHAT STRATEGIES YOU TOOK TO RETAIN YOUR EMPLOYEES?
The first week of the restaurant shutdown was the toughest. None of us had any idea what the landscape was going to look like. We came to a collective decision to continue with a to-go platform and maintain our operating hours. Thankfully, this was well received, and we were able to maintain our business levels and experience growth throughout the year. We were able to maintain full-time hours for our employees and hire on new team members.
WHAT IS IT LIKE BEING A RESTAURANT OWNER IN LANCASTER?
When the second round of shutdowns began, restaurant owners began promoting and posting about other restaurants’ offerings to show support for one another. I am grateful to be part of such a loving Lancaster restaurant community.

ABOVE: A view of Lancaster City

IMPACT ON TOURISM

Tourism is one of Lancaster County’s top 3 industries — hospitality and restaurants make up a large portion of that industry. Joel Cliff, Director of Communications and Advocacy for Discover Lancaster, provides insight about the impact the restaurant industry has on our tourism economy.
WHAT IS THE IMPACT OF RESTAURANTS ON OUR TOURISM INDUSTRY? HOW IMPORTANT WILL RESTAURANTS BE AS WE HEAD INTO THE TOURISM SEASON?
An important aspect of our restaurant community is its integral role in our broader tourism industry. Food and drink are a primary part of Lancaster County’s appeal to travelers, and our sheer variety of restaurants — as well as taverns, breweries, distilleries, and vineyards — provides options sure to please any palette. Some of our dining properties have become destinations themselves — such as Shady Maple and Good ‘N Plenty — while the increasing number of ethnic restaurants are a delightful addition to traditional Pennsylvania Dutch favorites. Mix in our popular farm-to-table emphasis, well-known sweets & treats, and a wide-ranging Craft Beverage trail, and it’s easy to see why our restaurants and other food service elements are always crucial to area tourism, especially during this build-back year of 2021.

ECONOMIC INSIGHTS

Naomi Young, Executive Director of the Center of Regional Analysis at Economic Development Company, shares the economic impact the restaurant industry has on our broader economy — often the indicators for other important elements of our economy like trends in growth.
WHAT IS THE ECONOMIC IMPACT OF RESTAURANTS ON OUR COMMUNITY?
Prior to the pandemic, the County had around 700 restaurant establishments offering dine-in or take-out services and employed around 14,000 people. While they made up around 6% of the establishments in Lancaster County, they represent an important element of the economy and have relatively high multipliers. In some ways a thriving restaurant scene is a signal for a vibrant economy.
HOW HAS THE CHANGING PANDEMIC LANDSCAPE AFFECTED OUR RESTAURANT COMMUNITY?
Without question, the restaurant community has been and continues to be impacted by the public health threat of COVID-19. At the same time, there has been fiscal support directed at this industry and workers. It’s too soon to know what the lasting impacts will be. In some ways, the pandemic reversed the decade-long transformation that industry has undergone in Lancaster County. Between 2010 and 2018, the number of restaurants did not change that much. However, they went from being limited service (eg, take-out) to dine-in. This transformation came with an increased economic footprint and employment base.

As evident in the experiences of the industry experts we interviewed, restaurants are vital to the economic, social, and cultural vibrancy of Lancaster County. When you are supporting a restaurant, you are supporting far more than just the food on your plate — a whole ecosystem of businesses and people that rely on each other — as they rely on you. As we turn the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic, we urge you to support these businesses with outdoor dining, take out, safe indoor dining, recommendations and reviews, following them on social media and more, to help keep our restaurants alive, and thrive, well into the future.