• Leith Steel

Inspiration for Your Post-Pandemic Hustle

We titled our 2021 trend report “Do the Hustle” because now is the time to be nimble and make some quick moves with a bit of style! In 2020, creativity was key. We all had to take business risks - and there wasn’t a lot of time for the measured approach we might have otherwise used for decision-making. In some ways, this was (and is) the perfect environment for creativity. Fear of failure has killed many a genius idea. But when the unimaginable has already happened, what’s to be lost by trying something new? Many who acted quickly and strongly were rewarded. We have found incredible inspiration all around us as authenticity and a true warrior spirit have prevailed. Here we look at three different cases of businesses that met the moment.

Crave Hospitality Group

It’s 2017. A chef, a tech entrepreneur and a restauranteur decide that the current delivery model is broken for all parties. Restaurants of a certain caliber were not offering delivery; they couldn’t control the experience and didn’t want their food quality to suffer, not to mention unsustainable third-party delivery fees. So they decided to create Crave Hospitality Group, building a complete delivery experience designed from a chef and restaurateur’s expertise, powered by technology and created with the ultimate guest experience in mind, one that captured the hospitality of a restaurant.

Fast-forward to November 2020 and the first Crave Collective opened just outside Boise, ID in a fast-growing, affluent suburb. Crave partnered with highly-acclaimed national chefs including Michael Mina, 14-time World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani and New York City’s beloved The Meatball Shop. They custom built kitchen suites for each restaurant and developed a proprietary tech stack that included a user-friendly online ordering app and an incredibly sophisticated BOH software system that incorporated order management, POS, and more.

They hired a fleet of mobile servers as employees to deliver all meals in order to ensure that the person delivering the order would be fully invested in creating a great dining experience. Those servers are trained in the art of hospitality and earn three to four times minimum wage. They know the entire menu lineup and can answer any questions or make recommendations. An in-house wine expert provides recommendations for wine pairings for specific dishes and customers can easily select wine or beer to complement their meal. Customers who order repeatedly from Crave will often have the same mobile server, just as if they had a favorite waiter when visiting a restaurant. The Crave team can also see when regular customers order, perhaps adding in a complimentary treat.

Crave designed a user-friendly ordering app that allows customers to mix and match orders from all participating restaurants. It is fully integrated with a complex order management system used back-of-house in all kitchens. When new orders come in, each restaurant is alerted and given a specific time to fire each specific dish so that the entire order is completed at the same time. From there, the completed dishes go past a quality control step where they are double checked and bundled with any beverages or other items and then stored in an appropriate temperature controlled container until it reaches the destination. Crave has even designed a method to deliver steak cooked to the desired temperature and still arrive warm.

Media coverage of the launch of the Crave Collective was enthusiastic with feature stories in Insider, Restaurant Business, The Spoon and more, and feedback has been incredibly positive on both sides of the operation. Customers love the high quality food and service; restaurant partners love the ease of entry into new markets and the marketing and operational support Crave provides. Partners are already signing on to the next location, of which there should be four more by the end of this year, and another ten the following.


Curio is a vibrant, bohemian gathering place in San Francisco’s Mission District. Attached to the legendary music venue, The Chapel, Curio was a busy and bustling restaurant and bar that brought people together from all walks of life, with delicious, shareable food and inventive cocktails. With The Chapel closed and large indoor gatherings halted for the foreseeable future, the restaurant had to reinvent itself and find ways to continue to bring people a distance. By mid-late June the restaurant was ready to open with a new outdoor friendly concept.

They tapped skilled local chef Jason Raffin to develop an easily executable menu of familiar California favorites from the smoker and grill. Specifically designing the menu to feature dishes easy to eat and associated with being eaten outdoors, the menu avoided shared plates (a COVID-19 no-no) and typical coursings, allowing the restaurant to turn tables much faster. They also moved to a no reservation policy so that tables didn’t sit empty while people waited to be seated.

Curio was lucky with the opportunity to take over part of an adjacent parking lot, already having a small outdoor patio, and having access to a long swatch of sidewalk they could expand on. This didn’t happen overnight but grew along with the demand. It started with just the existing patio, then the parking lot was decorated with plants, lights, old concert posters and movies projected on the back wall. More than creating outdoor seats, the team translated the eclectic and cozy vibe of the restaurant to the outdoor; setting up an outdoor living room with bright yellow armchairs and red victorian style sofa complete with coffee table, creating new energy that drew people in. By focusing on the core of how they wanted people to feel when visiting Curio, the team was able to recreate the vibe of the restaurant in this new setting. Read more about it on Forbes and in The San Francisco Chronicle.

Four Star Seafood & Provisions

Four Star Seafood & Provisions is a restaurant supplier specializing in top-quality seafood and artisan products. Founded by two chefs who were dissatisfied with the quality of product they were getting in their restaurant kitchens, they created Four Star to work directly with the best fishermen to bring the freshest seafood to the restaurant community. Eventually they added other artisan products from the Bay Area and beyond. Their growing business supported restaurants throughout the Bay Area. On March 17, 2020, their entire market collapsed when restaurants were closed and demand dropped to almost zero.

As supermarket shelves emptied they realized that they could fill a need, delivering restaurant-quality products to people at home. They quickly converted their basic informational website into a robust online store. Keeping true to their commitment to bring chef-selected products to their customers, they shifted their verbiage to help explain these products to the home chef. They developed a robust email marketing program to connect with their new customers, sending emails with weekly specials highlighting the catch and introducing new items available. They trained their drivers to new routing systems, making contactless delivery to homes instead of professional kitchens. They maintained the same level of responsiveness to customer needs that had made their restaurant business so successful. Maintaining a highly curated marketplace helped them stand out from a variety of new direct-to-consumer players. Fans loved the quality, the service and word spread and media on both sides of the country took note with mention in both the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.

What started as a play for survival became a new consumer business. With the holidays approaching Four Star realized they had another opportunity. People would soon be doing holiday shopping and many would not want to venture into a store at the busiest time of year; Four Star could offer superior quality as compared to most retail outlets. They a selection of curated holiday meal kits which could be given as gifts or enjoyed for the holiday meal. San Francisco-style cioppino was a huge hit. Customers loved having everything they needed to make this classic dish. Four Star had eliminated the most difficult part, finding and selecting the ingredients. They developed a strategic ad campaign to promote the holiday specials and attract new customers. The campaign worked attracting hundreds of new customers and bringing in significant incremental income.

Even as restaurants reopen, Four Star now has a fully shoppable website and legions of devoted fans who love them for getting top-quality seafood and their favorite products delivered to their homes.