In March, Scratch Food & Beverage owner Don Mahaney developed a “pay-what-you-can” menu and local market model to help customers who had lost their jobs or couldn’t find groceries due to early pandemic shortages.
By May, he was running up the hundred-some step staircases along Rialto Street in Pittsburgh’s Troy Hill neighborhood in an effort to raise funds for safe food deliveries to food insecure customers.
Before the end of the year, the restaurant changed its name to Scratch & Co. and launched a retail brand, Scratch & Co. Made Brand. The goal is to cut through the global supply chain and offer locally sourced provisions such as pickles, lunch meat and sauerkraut while ensuring local farmers and commercial ecosystems have an advantage over global and national supply chains. “If I hadn’t been taking that approach I’d be talking to you as a former business owner,” Mahaney said. “The only reason we’re still in business now is because we changed our entire business model.”
By pivoting weekly, Scratch & Co. became an outlier in the restaurant industry — a 2020 success story. Now, as the restaurant gears up for several initiatives in 2021, the hospitality industry as a whole sits between catastrophe and recovery.
The initial COVID-19 wave
When the pandemic hit in March, few believed it would last as long as it has. It forced restaurants – an industry accustomed to pivoting – to either take a pragmatic approach or an innovative one. Some fine dining restaurants such as The Left Bank in downtown York, Pennsylvania, opted to close before the initial shutdown began. Ride this out in the short term and weigh the damage out later. Others, such as Scratch, completely overhauled their menu and concept. “One of my goals was to keep my people employed,” Mahaney said. That grocery model was emulated in York through O.N.E. Hospitality’s website and later the RIG-A-TONI food truck would make neighborhood deliveries. But even before the stay-at-home mandates hit restaurateurs swiveled in any and every direction. Paetron accounts were created, GoFundMe campaigns were launched, and distilleries stopped making alcohol just for our gullets.