For Kyleena Falzone, the owner of pizza joint Secret Stash and tequila bar Bonez in Crested Butte, the moment of truth about COVID would mean for her restaurants came a few days earlier than it did for many across the state. “On [March] 14, that was it,” she recalls. “Gunnison County had a huge sign on the highway saying Crested Butte was was closed to tourists and they had two days to get out. It was a Saturday night about 7 p.m. and I had a huge lump in my throat and we had a huge line out the door. I thought, ‘We have to close the restaurant.'”
Like everyone in the industry, Falzone had no idea what to do. “I went home and cried,” she admits. “I’ve never not worked.” But over the following months, she found plenty of ways to stay busy. She threw herself into community service, and she’s managed to make money this year. Here’s how she did it:
DiningOut: Which months have been most profitable for you in 2020?
Kyleena Falzone: Secret Stash was up 48 percent in April and May. Bonez was up 68 percent for the whole summer.
DO: How did operations change after March 17?
KF: [At Secret Stash], we had a very large to-go and delivery business prior to March. I’m a very solution-oriented person; I never, ever go the the negative. I’m like, “OK, you guys, the whole entire town is on lockdown and no one can leave their house. What can we do?” I came up with a pizza kit and called it the Pizza Survival Kit….then I had this cool break where a company in Crested Butte called and said, “Hey, Kyleena, I saw your kits. Can I order 100 of them for my clients?”
So I posted on Facebook, then got a call the next day from a mortgage company and they ordered 300 kits to go to the fire department and first responders. Right away I could bring my managers back.
Then I thought, “I’ve saturated the pizza market—people are going to get sick of pizza.” So I started doing taco kits. I consolidated the restaurants, shut down Bonez, and worked out of one kitchen. I was able to keep costs low.
I thought, “That’s cool, but there are a lot of people who can’t afford [to pay for the kits.]” So I offered dinner sponsorships for people in the community. For a $500 sponsorship, [someone] can eat at Secret Stash for 83 days straight. I was able to raise $100,000 [and give away food to community members] for eight weeks. We crowdfunded a farmers’ market for 17 weekends, ordering produce, eggs, fruits, veggies, and organic stuff from local farmers. It was 100 percent free—zero strings attached. There were 80 feet of banquet tables staffed by volunteers; it was taking about an hour and a half to get through the line.
Broadcasts of all of these are on my Facebook page. My reach on social media grew exponentially. It shows the power of social media, of connection. And if you have the resources, get out there and do something for the community! My husband was like, “I’ve never seen you so happy, so motivated.”
One of my favorite quotes is, “It’s not survival of the fittest, it’s survival of the most adaptable.”
DO: When did you reopen for dine-in service?
KF: We reopened around June 1.
DO: Did you lay off any staff?
KF: I laid off 145 people on March 15. We brought everybody back and had to hire more!
DO: What do you feel has been the biggest driver of your profitability so far this year?
KF: So many people said, “[The community service] you did was amazing. We’re here to support you.” That was an ancillary benefit. I didn’t do anything I did for recognition, but it paid off tenfold.
The only unfortunate thing about it—and it kills me to this day—is that some people thought I was taking away from other businesses in town. I was like, “Guys, if someone is waiting two hours for food, they can’t afford to spend $70 on a steak.” I remember one morning I went outside and there was a vegan rhubarb pie on the porch. I picked it up and asked my husband, “What if it’s poisoned?” But I ate it anyway.
DO: Do you think expanded patio seating has made a significant difference for your financials?
KF: It made a huge difference. We just had to take it down Tuesday [October 20]. Tuesday night at 6 p.m. I was at the town council meeting saying, “I know you think this is early, but I need to know [about next year] as a business owner.” I have eight months of storage to deal with. We lost $3,600 in tents to wind and $5,000 to snow. Next year I want to do really professional umbrellas with poles and sails. We can’t wait until June to figure it out.
DO: What advice would you give to other bars and restaurants looking to thrive right now?
KF: It’s very easy for our minds and psyche to go to the negative. Surround yourself with positive people, Instagram, podcasts. You need to brainstorm with your friends instead of complaining and wasting time. I tell my employees, “If you’re going to throw up on my desk, bring your rag.”
Getting way ahead of the curve is another piece of advice. Don’t just wait for the government money; you’re just going to get yourself behind. I took the risk and ordered all the tables and umbrellas [for more outdoor seating] before it was approved. I knew every restaurant in the U.S. would be looking for them. By 9 a.m. [the day expanded patios were approved] I was set up and had it dialed in.
DO: Conversely, what do you want to hear about and learn from other restaurants?
KF: One of my favorite quotes is, “It’s not survival of the fittest, it’s survival of the most adaptable.” I’d love to hear what other people are doing and how they’re coming up with solutions.
Even in these times of such polarizing opinions, don’t let [other people’s] opinions ruin your network. It’s so important to listen to what other people are going through and not just fight with the pizza place down the street. Danny at Mario’s Pizza in Gunnison—we share pizza boxes when we run out. That’s how business owners should get along. I’m looking out for my entire community, not just the success of my restaurant.
Know of a 2020 restaurant success story? We want to hear about it. Email your experiences (and thoughts, opinions, and questions—anything, really) to email@example.com.