Next time you order dinner, try a side of toilet paper or a gallon of milk.
Restaurants across the country, desperately trying to survive the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic as the majority of Americans shelter in place, are delivering groceries and other essentials alongside prepared food.
The latest to seize on the survival strategy is Panera Bread, which on Wednesday announced the nationwide launch of Panera Grocery selling pantry items including milk, bread and fresh produce.
The St. Louis-based fast-casual chain is opening its pantry to help consumers get the hard-to-find items, Panera CEO Niren Chaudhary said in an interview with USA TODAY.
“This is rapid-fire innovation, this is not like business as usual,” Chaudhary said. “We have to move quickly to where the customer is, what the customers’ needs are.”
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Chaudhary said Panera has temporarily closed about 15% of locations but the new service is offered at around 1,900 locations via contactless delivery, pick-up, drive-up or in the drive-thru. Items available include a gallon of milk for $4.99 and an avocado for $1.49. The bakery normally sells loaves of bread and bagels.
According to a recent survey by Finder.com, more than 32% of those surveyed said they’re unable to find toilet paper and nearly 17% said they were struggling to find fresh food and 15% dry food like rice.
At California Pizza Kitchen, which has 240 locations, participating restaurants have introduced CPK Market and are selling meal kits and more than 35 food and beverage choices in addition to prepared items.
Market items include a dozen eggs for $5, a 3-pound bag of sugar for $4, a gallon of whole milk for $6 and a 10-pound bag of pasta for $15.
Fogo de Chão, which has 43 U.S. locations, has rolled out “Fogo To-Go.” The Brazilian steakhouse is selling carved “ready to grill” meats, fresh produce, milk, eggs and other staples a la carte.
“We know grocery store trips and stocked shelves can be in short supply these days,” Fogo CEO Barry McGowan said.
Local restaurants also have morphed into makeshift food marts, selling everything from groceries to hand sanitizer.
In Detroit, Rohani Foulkes, owner of Folk Detroit, is offering pre-order groceries to help keep her business afloat during the stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus threat. All ordering is done online ahead of time and purchased items are dropped off at the curb once a customer arrives.
“There’s no interaction other than waving through the window,” Foulkes told the Detroit Free Press, part of the USA TODAY Network. “It’s a real strange thing, but it’s a new way of interacting.”
In Aztec, New Mexico, Randy Hodge, who owns a Mexican restaurant called Rubia’s, said he decided to start selling groceries the day he had to close the doors to indoor dining.
The switch to groceries is one way Rubia’s is trying to survive. Hodge told the Farmington Daily Times that he had to lay off 35 employees and is trying to avoid laying off the remainder of the staff.
While sales at Rubia’s are down 60% due to the coronavirus restrictions, Hodge said half of the sales he makes are people wanting groceries.
“We are trying to provide a service to the community that helps with meeting or beating the coronavirus,” Hodge said.
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Contributing: Hannah Grover and Mike Easterling, Farmington Daily Times; Mark Kurlyandchik, Detroit Free Press
Follow USA TODAY reporter Kelly Tyko on Twitter: @KellyTyko
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