Innovating during a pandemic: Opening The Perch Kitchen and Tap
We connected with Doug Dunlay, co-owner of 4 Star Restaurant Group, to discuss innovation and launching a new restaurant concept — The Perch Kitchen and Tap — during COVID-19. The multi-concept operator owns and operates eight restaurants in Chicago: Frasca Pizzeria and Wine Bar, Smoke Daddy (two locations), Crosby’s Kitchen, Remington’s, Ella Elli, Tuco and Blondie, and The Perch Kitchen and Tap.
COVID-19 hit the restaurant industry hard. How did 4 Star respond?
Like most, our first response was shock. But we quickly rolled-up our sleeves and transitioned our business to take care of our guests, employees, and communities.
We transformed dining rooms and execution lines into carry-out and delivery operations “bubbles,” adjusted menus to maximize operational efficiency, enhanced the service model with added sanitation practices, and created new family meal packs and batch cocktails.
We set up a family meal program for our working and furloughed employees to ensure that everyone had access to food, provided a safe harbor, and developed a sense of community. We worked with Lakeview Pantry, supplying boxed meals for people in need and first responders.
We also made the tough decision to close two of our restaurant concepts, but moved forward with opening a new one, The Perch Kitchen and Tap.
What is The Perch?
The Perch is an American wood-fired-grill restaurant and tap room. We partnered with Finch Beer Co. to build an in-house brewery and create craft beer to compliment the oak, hickory, and cherry woods we use in the grill.
Along with wood-grilled bone-in ribeye, pork chops, ribs, and salmon, we developed vegetable-forward dishes with the grill in mind including, wood-grilled charred broccoli and veggie-plate entrees, artichoke appetizer, and a grilled slaw side dish.
We also incorporated a rotisserie, which we’re known for in other concepts, to prepare whole chicken and cauliflower heads.
What’s different about opening a restaurant during COVID-19?
Our menu development had to be more concise, but have enough variety for guests, and it had to be efficient for the staff to execute.
COVID-19 impacted how we built our restaurant. We added touchless bathroom sinks and doors to reduce shared surface contact, hand sanitizer stations, and a hand-washing sink right in the dining room for guests.
We added an extra 10 tons of HVAC and high-quality air filters. The added air filtration serves not only our guests, who enjoy an hour or two with us, but our employees who work six- to 10-hour shifts. More than ever, we needed to put our best food forward while keeping our guests and staff safe.
What menu innovations developed at the other restaurant concepts?
We developed family pack meals that include signature entrees from each restaurant, healthy vegetables, and dessert. We created batch cocktails to match each restaurant’s theme, such as margarita pitchers at Tuco and Blondie, our Mexican concept.
We also created ways to connect with our customers with what we’re known for. For example, Ella Elli created a to-go wine program and Crosby’s Kitchen (and all restaurants) is bringing back the “kids eat free” program. We will continue to innovate behaviors, practices, and menus every step of the way to stay connected to our guests.