Shortly after COVID-19 restrictions swept through Oregon in March, Jessie Scarola, president and CEO of Elegant Elephant Fine Foods, began grocery shopping for her more-vulnerable relatives in the Eugene-Springfield area.
Looking at the grocery lists, Scarola noticed many similarities: They largely comprised bare necessities and pantry staples. At the same time, Scarola found many of these items missing from local grocery stores.
Elegant Elephant, a dedicated gluten-free wholesale bakery with limited retail in downtown Eugene, already had “this great network of local food businesses,” Scarola thought. Could her bakery cut out the middleman, shorten the supply chain and get many of these items locally?
From this idea came “Grown Together, Rooted in Community,” Elegant Elephant’s pantry-share service. Through the service, customers order online for delivery from local vendors like Sweet Creek Foods, Lochmead Dairy and Hummingbird Wholesale. In June, the service added bake-at-home kits.
This is just one of many such services launched by Eugene-area restaurants and bakeries in the wake of COVID-19, including Localicious, Lion and Owl and Party Downtown, among others, as well as Lovely in downtown Springfield. This move toward pantry-share is both a pivot, adapting the restaurant business model during COVID, and a defensive strategy against online grocery ordering from places like Fred Meyer and meal-kit delivery services like Blue Apron and HelloFresh.
In fact, many national meal delivery services have seen a significant uptick in business during the COVID-19 pandemic. U.S. consumers spent roughly $100 million on meal kits in the month of April this year, according to Nielsen data. That’s two times the revenue from the same time last year.
Tiffany Norton, co-owner and founder of the trio of Party locations in Eugene, including Party on Friendly, Party Downtown and the adjoining Party Bar, admits that early on their “Things We Love” grocery service was an act of desperation.
“A lot of places lost business” when dine-in restrictions took effect, she says, “as we did. And a lot of people we’re buying from lost business.”
In their pantry-share, “We’re just trying to have things that are cool and awesome, and maybe slightly unique,” she says, like house-made pizza dough, pimiento cheese, lacto-fermented cabbage raab, and Camas Country Mill flour.
What started as an act of desperation turned out to be a fun addition to the Party business model, Norton says.
“Supporting some small, cool companies feels like you’re at least trying to do more,” she says. She doesn’t see it going away any time soon, even after Party reopens for dine-in service. Norton and her husband and business partner Mark Kosmicki decided not to do so under Phase 1 of Governor Kate Brown’s plan to reopen the economy, for safety concerns.
Plans are now being drawn up, however, for outdoor seating with limited dine-in at all downtown Party locations. Limited service resumed at Party’s Friendly Street Market location in mid-June, shortly after Lane County entered Phase 2 of Oregon’s economic reopening.
Like Party, Lion and Owl in downtown Eugene has yet to open for dine-in service. Kirsten Hansen, co-owner of Lion and Owl, agrees her restaurant’s pantry-share and produce box service could be here to stay.
Although there’s a big chunk of the population that’s eager to get out, she says, “There’s a small group that’s very scared of leaving their homes. We still want to accommodate the needs of those people.”.
In addition to produce and pantry staples, Lion and Owl includes add-ons to inspire a meal, such as pasta with Camas Swale Farm tomato sauce, or frisée salad topped by a pound of bacon and six My Pharm duck eggs beneath a mustard vinaigrette.
An added benefit to the consumer, she says, is that using the services is a little like having your grocery list curated by a professional chef.
“It’s a one-two punch. We were the only one touching everything,” Hansen says, “and doing it under the same hyper-clean practices that restaurants live by already,” while also helping farmers get some of their product to market in a new way, she says.
“Food in general was already starting to make this trend,” adds Scarola of Elegant Elephant, toward people choosing the convenience of things brought to their home, having their groceries shopped for them, or ordering pre-prepared meal kits.
“COVID really accelerated that, and honestly,” she says, “it’s a trend that’s here to stay.”
Order from Elegant Elephant’s Grown Together, Rooted in Community pantry-share service by 8 pm Friday for delivery by the following Thursday. For more information go to ElegantElephantBaking.com.
Order from Lion and Owl’s Pantry share service for next-day, direct to trunk curbside pickup or delivery after 5 pm. For more information go to LionandOwl.com. Lion and Owl is open for takeout and delivery 10 am to 9 pm Tuesday through Thursday, 10 am to 10 pm Friday and Saturday and 10 am to 3 pm on Sunday at 60 E. 11 Avenue in Eugene.
Order from Party Downtown’s “Things we love” pantry-share or house-made grocery and produce service during regular business hours for pickup. Delivery available Thursday through Saturday only at an additional charge. For more information go to PartyEugene.com. Party Downtown is open Wednesday through Saturday 5 to 9 pm at 55 W. Broadway in Eugene.