“I'll be honest, it was dismal in January and February, but we never lost hope, we kept trying. And then it just got really bad."
“We opened Bobby Carl’s Table in October of 2019, so we were this very new kid on the block. We were this new kid on the block, still learning the ropes and making rookie mistakes. We also were feeling community love and getting some confidence of, ‘yeah, people are responding to this, this is great.’
We wanted to impart to folks that childhood southern comfort that my husband and I grew up with. Both of our grandparents had farms and just about everybody had a farm or garden of some sort and that’s what accounted for a lot of things that were on the table. So we grew up with that comfort of knowing that you could count on the food that would be on mom's table. And no matter what kind of day you had, there was a constant and that was the nourishment that came not only from the love of your family and God, but from what was on your plate. The comfort that everything’s going to be okay. That’s what we wanted Bobby Carl’s Table to be, great southern food from the farm that is a constant, is a source of nourishment.
And so, January 1, we were feeling that new business nervousness. With the holidays, we got a taste of like ‘wow, people are here, we're busy.’ But after the holidays we were trying to figure out how to get back out there. The most common thing I heard was, ‘Absolutely amazing service and food. I didn't know you were here.’ And so I was still struggling with ‘how do you, on a bootstrap budget, get people to know who you are?’ I did my best to harness the powers of social media. I didn’t really have a budget for advertising. And, of course, word of mouth is priceless.
So we were still the little restaurant that was just trying as hard as it could. I'll be honest, it was dismal in January and February, but we never lost hope, we kept trying. And then it just got really bad. The restaurant industry is hard enough, I mean absolutely one of the toughest industries that you can be in. And then, let's just throw in a pandemic.
I remember it clearly. It was March 16, however technically the 17th because we're open on Tuesdays. It was the first day that Jefferson County said you're going to go straight to curbside, nobody's coming in. Our percentage of what we did in takeout was less than one percent. I mean, we just had not gotten our legs underneath us yet, but we got a real crash course in it. My husband and I created a website so people could order online.
We've got the perfect cuisine for family meals, so for the first two weeks we did family meals. And we had to gather all the supplies while the world was going crazy. You know, lift up your chin and walk into that store and grab what you can. Wait, there's nothing here. I remember going to one of our purveyors and it looked like an apocalyptic scene. There was nothing on the shelves. So it was make do with what you've got, which actually kind of goes back to the kind of grandparents we all grew up with. Make do with what you've got, and you've got everything you need. And so we did.
Of all the places to open up a restaurant, Mountain Brook is the best. The city, the chamber, the citizens, the community. It literally anchored us. I got to know everyone more than I ever would have if we had just been in business and the pandemic hadn’t happened. I was meeting people at the curb, you know, running it out and giving them meals that hopefully would be some sort of salve to their soul.
When we were just takeout, we could not afford payroll at all. Being part of the ownership and of the business, I don't get a check. Luckily, my husband is the income for our family.
I reached out to one of our guys, Adam, who did our lunch shift. I made it to where I could just afford him to come in, cook the food, and then we’d send it out the door. We got as close as we could to that lunch menu. For a while it was me and him. We took orders, we rolled it out, and I ran from one end of this restaurant to the other. I had a whole assembly line to get it out the door, I am proud to say we never shut down.
When we were starting to open up again, I knew Adam could not do lunch and dinner. I had kept in contact with everybody and we started pulling people in as we could, but I needed a chef. I mistakenly put an ad out for an executive chef. I clicked the wrong button. When I met Chris, the first thing I said to him was ‘I can't afford you.’ He said, ‘I don't know what it is, but I'm supposed to be here.’ He, too, was looking for another way. COVID had put everybody to a grinding halt. It was a pause that gave people enough time in this crazy chaos, where we are used to shoving a lot of things away. ‘I’ll worry about that later.’ COVID gave us ample time to look at ourselves. Chris did that, and that's when he realized he wanted to do something else. So, I was lucky enough to get him in here and that's when the world opened up.
It was a real scary world, but we were here, we weren't gone yet. And so we have continued. You get enough customers in here to make enough revenue to buy the groceries to get enough customers in here to pay the people that are here. It’s a cycle, but we have our head above water.
To be honest with you, right now we're at a very scary time again. We have made it this far, and I have my faith. I really truly believe that God is what is getting us through this. And to me, that's a way to kind of tell the fear that I'm not going to listen to it. I don't know how it's going to be okay, but it's going to be okay.
But back in March, it was absolutely terrifying. It was a huge investment for my husband and me. And it's already a hard industry. We thought we had it all planned out, and then it just went to heck. And there was no one to go to for advice because everybody was like, ‘What do we do?’ And so there was this absolute complete lost feeling. But there was also kind of like an okayness of, well, I'm not alone, at least it's not just us.
We’ve gone from a staff of 13 last January, to a staff of one plus me from March 26 through mid-May, to a staff of 13 again now, January 2021. It's scary because it's constantly a negotiation. You’ve got to have the folks here to be able to deliver the service that you are fighting hard to keep alive, so you can't deliver a crappy service. You have to do it right, so you have to take the chance. In mid-May or so, we opened back up at 50% capacity, which is what we still operate at now.
I'm gonna fight tooth and nail. Mountain Brook did a Merchant Relief Fund, and I applied for that and was so glad to receive it. The state of Alabama did a program called Revive Alabama and at 11:59 before the application opened at 12:00, I was standing at the hostess stand with my laptop. Submitted it, got it. These have happened at just the right time. I'm right there, right when the applications open up. We’ve been able to utilize the PPP to continue to exist and we're hoping that we can be a part of the next PPP funding, because the biggest struggle is payroll.
I'm not giving up. And as cheesy as that sounds, I don't give up. It might take a while and you might hit a lot of walls. If you get knocked down 50, 1100 times, it’s how many times you get back up. That's what matters.” -- Christie, Bobby Carl’s Table #Alabama