February 14, 2014

Eateries that stayed open in the snow say it took teamwork

On Thursday, while many businesses in Charlotte were shut down because of heavy snow, it was still possible to get an espresso and a macaroon from Amelie’s French Bakery.

While some Charlotte businesses shut down in this week’s heavy snow, you could still get an espresso and a macaroon from Amelie’s French Bakery.

Known for its 24/7 business model, the Amelie’s North Davidson Street location kept its lights on and its pastries available for customers willing to risk Charlotte’s icy roads. Amelie’s in NoDa never closes – not for holidays, power outages or even snow, said Stefanie Haviv, executive manager of operations.

“We are always open, forever,” said Haviv, niece of co-owner Lynn St. Laurent. “We’re prepared for pretty much anything.”

Some other locally owned restaurants and shops also opened despite the snow and ice. Those that did open said they had to take extra steps to make sure employees and customers were safe.

Employees and bosses sent text messages to one another to make sure they safely made it to and from work. For customers whose vehicles became trapped in snow, employees helped push them out.

When Amelie’s ran out of rock salt, employees sprinkled kosher salt from its kitchen around the outside of its building in NoDa. Employees walked orders to vehicles so that customers did not have to get out.

Kimberly Sullivan, a server at Thomas Street Tavern in Plaza Midwood, said her boss drove her to work in his pickup truck Thursday. The business kept its usual hours of 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Sullivan said.

Sullivan said Thomas Street Tavern stays open even if the power goes out. It’s important to the customers who live in the area, she said.

“That’s how we’ve always been,” she said. “This neighborhood is like a family. It like ‘Cheers.’ ”

Strong sales

Businesses that opened during the storm said sales were strong and seats were full, as customers who lived nearby sought a place within walking distance to eat and gather.

Thomas Street Tavern, which has two bars and also serves food, was “slammed” with customers Wednesday and Thursday, Sullivan said. Some customers sat outside Thursday, sipping drinks under heaters, she said.

“Yesterday and the day before … people were leaving because it was so packed,” she said Friday. “We were completely full.”

The Pizza Peel & Tap Room, also in Plaza Midwood, was open Wednesday and Thursday. Owner Will Bigham said he shuttled about five employees to and from work. The business’ employees live within three miles, he said.

Sales were very good during the storm, he said.

“Last night we were on a two-hour wait for most of the night,” he said Friday. “But our parking lot was empty because everyone was walking.”

The snow was no reason to fall short of the business’ goal, he said. “We’re here for the neighborhood.”

Gina Stewart, manager of The Common Market on Commonwealth Avenue, said the grocer, deli and wine and beer seller was open Wednesday and Thursday. She said she and the business’ owner drove employees to help them get to and from work. Customers flocked to the business because there weren’t many places open, she said.

“We were very, very busy,” she said. “On Wednesday and Thursday we did what we might do on a weekend – a very good weekend, I might add.”

Cabin fever drove people to Amelie’s this week, Haviv said. Amelie’s had customers as snow accumulated Wednesday night, although business was slow during the day Thursday, she said. Crowds were steady Thursday night, she said.

Being prepared

Amelie’s is prepared for power outages and other unexpected events, said Stow Moore, Amelie’s catering and events director.

When the power goes out, staff members go into “knives down” mode, she said, so that no one in the kitchen gets hurt in the dark. If needed, employees will rush out and buy dry ice to keep food cool. The business will keep serving drip coffee and other items, even if it can’t serve food because it might be unsafe to do so, she said.

“We have a whole power outage process,” she said.

Haviv said Amelie’s hires managers who have various experience that might be needed in all types of situations.

“We don’t hire people that just have restaurant experience,” she said. “We’re a 24-hour bakery. Situations happen where people have certain skills that come into play.”

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