Small business owners have seen their companies change overnight due to the coronavirus. In our #openforbusiness series, we're highlighting Northwestern Mutual clients who have been forced to get creative in order to adapt to these unprecedented times and keep their businesses running. We hope you'll get inspiration from their stories and help support them whenever possible.

Business: Buttermilk Kitchen

Owner: Suzanne Vizethann

Location: Atlanta

Email: info@buttermilkkitchen.com

Phone: 678-732-3274

Website: buttermilkkitchen.com

I opened Buttermilk Kitchen seven and a half years ago as a completely chef-driven, farm-to-table, breakfast/lunch restaurant with a heavy Southern influence. Everything in our kitchen is 90-percent scratch-made, and we take a lot of pride in our ingredients and source locally.

When our state’s close-down orders came in March, we hastily pivoted from an 88-seat, mainly full-service, dine-in restaurant to a to-go operation. It definitely took a lot of retraining, planning and reorganizing. Here’s how we did it.

WE QUICKLY RESTRUCTURED OUR SERVICE

Previously, we would do some to-go orders during the week, but our huge brunch crowds made that impossible on the weekends. When the pandemic hit, we came up with an extremely limited to-go menu by choosing our top-selling dishes with the highest profit margins.

Initially, we signed up with Uber Eats, Door Dash and whatever delivery service was around. That went pretty well, but it was really difficult to service our regular customers in addition to the new ones they brought in — especially on the weekends. Those services also take a huge cut — about 30 percent — but we thought we needed to use them.

Eventually, we decided to cut off the delivery services for a couple weeks, and we found that we were just as busy without them. When we weighed the results, we decided it was creating more chaos than we needed. Customers can still order from our website or over the phone. We have the option of curbside pickup, or customers can come in to pick up orders without interacting with our staff.

WE EXPANDED OUR E-COMMERCE PRESENCE

In addition to the restaurant, I also just published a cookbook, “Welcome to Buttermilk Kitchen.” We launched an online store on our website where people can purchase the book as well as our jams and jellies, T-shirts and other swag.

We’ve already sold more than 500 books — in this case, the stay-at-home orders likely helped sales as people were looking for things to do at home. We were fortunate to have built up a great following. It was phenomenal to see how dedicated and loyal our customers have been.

WE INTENSIFIED OUR CLEANING PROCEDURES

We implemented a 30-minute hand-washing policy. We get everyone to stop what they’re doing and either wash or sanitize their hands in addition to sanitizing all the kitchen and high-touch surfaces. We also require all our staff members to wear gloves and masks all the time to heighten the level of safety and sanitation.

WE STAYED CONNECTED TO OUR COMMUNITY

We are pretty successful on Instagram and Facebook — I would say 80 to 90 percent of our guests find their information about us there. We also send out a newsletter to about 5,000 subscribers every week. And we set up a GoFundMe page for some workers we had to furlough. Right now, we take it day by day, but I am feeling hopeful.

WE SOUGHT ADVICE ABOUT OUR FINANCES

I was approved early on for a Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) loan, which was a relief. During this time I spoke with my financial advisor, Matthew Cesari, who helped me understand some of the specifics of the loan terms. He also went over the numbers with me. Matthew’s always been a great help.

Suzanne Vizethann is a client of Northwestern Mutual. She works with Financial Advisor Matthew Cesari.

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The testimonials presented may not be representative of the experience of other clients and are not a guarantee of future performance or success.

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