Innovating during a pandemic: Shari’s taps today’s trends
Shari’s Management Corp. owns and operates 122 Shari’s Café & Pies, Coco’s, and Carrows restaurant brands with seven franchised locations across seven states but operates predominantly on the West Coast in Oregon, Washington, and California.
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It also operates Coco’s Famous Hamburgers, a virtual brand served out of every location where delivery is available. Each of its brands has a long history in family dining, offering breakfast, lunch, dinner, and award-winning pies.
John Iannucci, COO, takes us through the company’s innovation during COVID-19.
It’s almost been a year since the start of the pandemic, how did Shari’s respond?
West Coast restaurants have had to endure the most restrictive safety guidelines throughout the entire pandemic. Many of our locations are in Washington state, which was an early epicenter, and we recognized the need to adapt long before the restrictions started with the first wave.
We adjusted our staffing and inventory, and then switched over to digital menus and contactless pay options. By the second wave, we had invested in exterior patio seating since we knew it was going to be a while before we would be able to reopen our dining rooms.
How did your operational approach change?
We have certainly accelerated innovation faster than we ever thought possible. Shari’s, Coco’s and Carrows were already on a digital transformation path that started in 2019. We fast-tracked curbside pickup, added virtual gift cards, and accelerated the rollout of our virtual brand, Coco’s Famous Hamburgers, taking it from 14 locations to over 100 locations. We also re-launched Shari’s rewards program with a new app and new tiers. Later this year we’re launching Coco’s rewards program.
Even with dining rooms closed, we are in especially high demand on holidays. We implemented a virtual waitlist to allow guests to wait in their cars, added additional curbside parking spaces, and stationed team members outside as porters to greet guests as they arrived for pickup to help speed the curbside process.
How have you reached people through pie?
Pie is comfort food and remained in demand throughout the pandemic. We’ve seen a spike in both the classics like apple pie and our most indulgent flavors like S’more’s Galore. We invited our guests to do “random acts of pie-ness” delivering pie to their friends and family. Over the 2020 holidays, we introduced the first-ever pie subscription program at Shari’s and Coco’s where guests could gift a monthly pie to a loved one, or themselves!
What have been guest favorites during the pandemic and what new items have people been asking for?
Surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly, the fried chicken trend has carried over into chicken fried steak as well. In addition to an almost unwavering demand for pie, we’ve also seen a shift in our menu mix to heartier meals like our Country Fried Steak.
In 2020, we were one of the first to serve Impossible Breakfast Sausage on our menu and introduced it in our new breakfast sandwiches and burrito. We’re also testing a new BYO burger that includes an Impossible burger patty as an option.
We created a variety of seasonal family meals for guests to enjoy at home from summer barbeque, holiday feasts, and just recently our new “big bundles” featuring burgers, chicken tenders and fries.