Courtesy of Restaurant Poco
Stefano Cicirello and Susie Ely of Poco restaurant and Poco Mercato
Vermont restaurants are doing all kinds of things to stay open during this worldwide pandemic. Among other innovations, they're offering cocktails to-go in quart containers, drive-up curbside pickup
, and heat-and-eat meals for the whole family.
Restaurants are adapting, trying to support their employees and their communities, and aiming to make money however they can — all with the goal of, hopefully, reopening as their former selves when it's safe for people to gather again.
With a kitchen full of food, Poco restaurant
owners Stefano Cicirello and Susie Ely have pivoted to stocking pantries. The Burlington eatery, open on lower Main Street for just under a year, is temporarily operating as an online grocery store.
Cicirello and Ely, who are siblings, stopped offering takeout-only lunch and launched Poco Mercato
on Tuesday, after a week of slinging Wagyu burgers, veggie pita and truffle fries.
"It began with the fact that we had inventory in the restaurant," Ely said. "We were trying to figure out a safe way to be able to use it and share it with the community more creatively, now that the restaurant isn't open. We still have the food."
Offering staples, rather than takeout, is a way of minimizing contact throughout the process, Cicirello explained. "There are fewer people touching the food, from purveyor to customer. We bag it up, we wear gloves, and we're washing our hands until they're dry and cracked," he said.
The online store operates through Square, which the restaurant had previously used as a point-of-sale system.
"It's fairly convenient, in a way," Ely said of the new ordering system, which she and Cicirello whipped up in 24 hours. "It keeps us organized," she continued, "and we just have to set up the kitchen and prep and package, instead of cooking and serving."
Ely and Cicirello are running the operation themselves, after having to lay off their employees during the early days of the shutdown.
"As a small family business, it's just us doing this now," Ely said. "That's a big change, too."
Poco Mercato screenshot
Friday's Poco Mercato inventory
The online shop's early offerings include a dozen eggs ($4.50), a half gallon of whole milk ($2.50), marinated mushrooms ($5), purple-topped turnips ($3/pound), local carrots ($2.50/pound), Kobe beef burger patties ($8 for 2), Little Hosmer from the Cellars at Jasper Hill ($8), a variety of wine and cider, and more produce, meat and cheese.
"We'll get stuff from farmers and vendors as long as they have it," Ely said. "We're going to be creative with the inventory — it's not just based on what we used to serve."
Items that have become hard to find in brick-and-mortar stores, such as bulk flour, instant yeast and toilet paper are also available.
At first glance, the toilet paper seems to be on the pricy side — $10 for four rolls. But clicking through on the site, a description reassures customers that the rolls have "three times as many sheets as most common household brands." One of the secrets of the restaurant biz, of course, is stocking big rolls of toilet paper.
Poco Mercato is open Tuesday through Friday, with pickup available at the restaurant between noon and 6 p.m. Delivery within Burlington is fulfilled between 3 and 4 p.m. on those days. Per Gov. Phil Scott's recent stay-at-home order, pickup will be primarily conducted curbside.
The store's online inventory will expand and adapt based on customer requests, as well as what's available from local farms and vendors. As of Friday, the shop was also offering prepared meals, including eggplant parm, Bolognese with handmade gnocchi, and housemade ice cream.
"We didn't know how the community would react, and it seems very positive so far," Cicirello said. "Honestly, this is opening a new business for us, and we're learning as we go," he continued. "We're not a grocery store. We're just a restaurant selling groceries."