How One Local Restaurant Adapted To Covid-19

Covid-19 Ravaged Small Businesses

Running a successful business requires being able to adapt to things and nothing has been a bigger challenge to adapt to than Covid-19. The outbreak has done serious damage to many small and local businesses around the country. The restaurant industry was especially hard-hit once the meat shortage happened. Hopefully, a reversal is on the horizon, but until then, everybody’s still struggling to keep up. In the meantime, everyone needs to adapt. One local business in Cache Valley has managed to adapt to the situation surprisingly well.

Pauni Island Grill and Catering

Pauni Island Grill restaurantPuani Island Grill and Catering is a Polynesian restaurant owned by a family of Tongan immigrants. They started their business with just a trailer that they sold food from at events and on the side of the road. Over the years, their quality food and entertainment has made them a popular choice for event catering. Just a year before the outbreak, they finally opened their first restaurant. If you can imagine a worse time to make such a huge change to your business model than right before the outbreak of a new virus has the government shutting things down, you’ve got a pretty nasty imagination. Yet, Pauni Island is not only surviving, but is doing really well. They’ve managed to adapt really well to the situation to keep going where others have struggled. Here’s how they’ve done it.

1. Opening Delivery and Drive-Thru

Drive-thru is something most fast-food restaurants take for granted, but when Pauni Island moved into their new restaurant, they didn’t have drive-thru set up. As soon as the outbreak happened, though, they knew they were going to have to close down the dining room because it was too small and cramped to assure their customer’s safety. They immediately took action to set up a drive-thru option. They also partnered with companies like Lodel and GrubHub to allow delivery for those who didn’t want to risk going to the restaurant.

It was a smart move, because it allowed them to keep delivering food even when they couldn’t have people in the building. They are now able to open their dining room, albeit and reduced capacity, but people still make use of their drive-thru and delivery options. The expansion of services has kept them going, and will allow them to grow even more once the outbreak restrictions are fully lifted.

2. Special Discounts

The goal of running a business is to turn a profit. Ideally, business owners will tell you the desire is to grow over time, achieving increased profits on a regular basis. When times get tough though, you have to acknowledge that growth might not be reasonable to expect. It might not even be a good goal to strive for, as attempting to grow at a pace that isn’t matched by market demand can lead to lost profits in both the short- and long-term.

Pauni Island has recognized this. They realize that making some profit is better than making no profit at all. In response to the difficult times, Pauni has been regularly offering special deals and discounts to their customers. Whether it’s a $12 family deal when it first started, a free kid’s meal to school-children once a day during the end of the last school year, or their current $5 meat bowl, Pauni Island has been doing everything they can to make their food more affordable to people around Cache Valley. It may mean the business doesn’t grow at quite the rate they might have hoped for, but it’s kept them in good shape.

3. Charity Events

Pauni Island has never been a stranger to events. All around Cache Valley and many of the surrounding areas, you can spy their food truck at city- and state-sponsored events, or doing special business catering events. When the outbreak happened, many such events were canceled. In response, they sought out any charity events they could find to participate in.

I’ve known the Pauni family for a while and this isn’t really anything unusual for them. Just last December, they did a Christmas charity drive, where everybody who came in to their store on the day of the event could get a free meal. They set up a big tent with a portable heater, providing hot chocolate and cookies and a warm place to spend some time to people who normally can’t afford to go to restaurants. Those who wanted to pay could do so, but they were only asked to pay however much they wanted to. Some accepted free meals, others paid smaller amounts, some made larger donations to support Pauni Island in providing food to people in need.

When the Pauni family says they do it because they want to help, I do believe them, but there’s no denying that it helps them as well. Donating half the take to a charity event might not turn a huge profit, but the people attending the fundraising events for local charities remembered who offered to do so. Even if your only interest is helping people, it still has benefits for you, and it certainly has for Pauni Island Grill.

4. Supporting Local Markets

When the meat shortage really hit, a lot of restaurants I know – particularly the national chains – had to start putting limits on what people could buy. Wendy’s, for example, had to stop selling double and triple burgers for a while. Others had to cut back their portions, too. This was because many of the national chains were tied to the food sources that the chains exclusively buy from. When those got shut down, nobody could afford meat.

Here, Pauni Island’s ability to adapt allowed them to avoid having to make the same call. Instead of reducing portions, Pauni Island simply took their business to more local butchers and markets. This allowed them to keep offering their food at the same portions and prices as before.

Adapting To Survive

Being able to adapt to the situation as it happened allowed Pauni Island to stay in business when many other small and local business in the same industry were forced to close. It won’t be a big year for growth and profit, that’s true. They’ve had to take hits to their profits to keep customers coming, but they understand that some profit is better than no profit. A business model that demands it make all of the profit isn’t one that can survive big shake-ups like this, as many businesses are learning.

Adaptability and flexibility are the key to survival in business. When the times are good you enjoy the benefits of success, but when things go down, you have to adapt to meet the challenges. Pauni Island has managed this spectacularly. When all this is over, I hope to hear about how much more their business takes off because they were willing to meet the challenges of the time.