“We felt it was our responsibility to be optimistic. People’s lives were hard and we should provide them a place that's optimistic."
“We hit the ground running as hard as we could to try to figure it out, because so much of business and money is momentum. If you let the momentum collapse, restarting the engines is really difficult. Restaurants that aren't independently wealthy can't just shut down for six months and then reopen. An epidemiologist who was helping us with Carrboro United told us that there was no way to know when the sunset of this virus was going to be. There was no way to know. So the only way to move through it was to innovate.
I think the first thing was try to recognize what it is that we do as a business. What is it that we do that's necessary and important. We knew people needed to eat, we knew people needed food. We also knew that it was not us versus other businesses, but how do we energize this community around the ways in which they can do things that help each other out.
And so we created Carrboro United that first week of COVID, like March 16th, and worked with several local companies and then some large national companies to create a hub format where restaurants and farmers and purveyors could bring items that people could purchase online, and then pick up during our hub days, which were Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. To get dinner for your family or get a bunch of local eggs or salad greens, or, you know, local bread. The concept fundamentally was, we can deliver to you when you're scared. So you can come to us and open your trunk and we’ll put it in the back for you. And the hope was to provide a lifeline to the local community of residents as well as the local food business community.
Here at ACME, we've been in business 20 years, so we have a huge internet following. In March, our business manager quickly created an online platform for ordering systems for purchasing. We used it for Carrboro United and became a beta site for one of the national point of sale systems.
And then with ACME, we started trying to figure out a way to capture people's attention, to make them have fun. We lucked into what turned out to be a great idea. I sent out an email to our 12,000 followers saying that we recognized that everyone has had things canceled that were important to them, like the vacations they weren’t allowed to take. So I said let us bring your vacation to you. Send us ideas and maybe we can make a culinary vacation.
So we did one. It was just for fun, like on a ranch in Texas, like a dude ranch. And after that, hundreds of people sent us these beautiful stories about like, you know, my husband and I scheduled our 60th anniversary trip to Greece and he'd always dreamed of going there, but we had to cancel it. So we started creating these staycation dinners, so people could take home with them. And those have been really super successful because, you know, it's like anything else, just because we are faced with something hard doesn't mean we have to be victims to it. And a lot of people are upset, and they're scared, but they still have their life to lead.
And there are so many young parents with little kids, struggling to figure out how to make this work-life balance thing happen. And with the kids at home, how difficult it is when both parents have careers.
And so we, you know, we were really trying to reach out to those people too and say, you know, this is really hard. You're not supposed to be able to get through this by yourself, you know, this is a lot. Maybe 100 years ago they would have had extended family all around them, but that’s not the way it is these days. If you're a young couple who lives in Carrboro and your family lives in California and you have seven year old twins, it’s challenging, very challenging.
So I think those are the things that we've really felt, and we felt it was our responsibility to be optimistic. People’s lives were hard and we should provide them a place that's optimistic.
What we really want to focus on as a business is the fact that we're part of this community and the community is what gets people through things. It's about committing to take care of your neighbors in a way that's, you know, meaningful, because we feel like we have a responsibility in this community. So we promise that when there's snow on the ground and nobody's open, we’ll be open. And maybe we're just going to serve hamburgers and there may be only three people in the house working, but you can come in and get a cup of coffee and have a piece of pie or whatever, and we'll be there for you. That's part of our job. And that's something we take very seriously. And we think that sort of investment in community is what makes places worth living in.”
-- Kevin, ACME Food & Beverage (December 2020)