A response to COVID-19 for local restaurants: Durham Delivers

Image of the Durham Delivers Logo on the Durham skyline.

We all remember early March, when perhaps our Red, White, Blue, and rose-colored glasses had neither clarity of the present nor the foresight to see what was coming. I recently rewatched a video recording of myself from March saying “Governor Cooper just announced a state of emergency. We’ll see how this goes. I feel like we’ll know a lot more in the next few days”. … How little did I know what we were in for. Here we stand (actually probably sitting on a Zoom call… you never set up the standing desk did you?), five-months later still with a fair degree of uncertainty of what lies ahead, yet with no illusions of how dramatically the pandemic has reshaped everything in our lives.

One of those “next few days” was March 17th, an otherwise often lucrative day for many, when an NC state-wide mandate forced restaurants to close their dining rooms. The harsh reality of how impactful COVID-19 might be to their survival, if not already apparent, was settling in. Amidst the chaos we all endured trying to make sense of the rapidly evolving situation, for restaurant owners and workers, one thing was becoming clear: they would need to adapt to survive these times.

NC COVID-19 Newsroom

With the pandemic bringing such hardship to so many so quickly, and as digital workers who were able to relatively easily adapt to indefinite working from home, the Savas team desperately wanted to help those more affected. Managing the disease itself is the work of medical experts, drug manufacturers, governments, and public health officials, which is clearly not our realm of expertise. So we brainstormed at length during some of our earlier Labs meetings about how we could contribute in other ways, and while I can personally attest to feeling ill-equipped to help when the world needed it most and the guilt that comes with that, we did keep coming back to ideas on how to help restaurants regain some of their lost business. We take a lot of pride in our local and unique restaurants here in Durham, so for those of us who live here, we were motivated to help preserve their livelihood and the wonderful food scene we benefit from.

Around this time, articles began to circulate which revealed to the rest of us what restaurant owners had known for some time, that the venture-backed delivery app behemoths (Postmates, Uber Eats, Grubhub, and DoorDash), while not all the same, charge fees for their service that are unsustainable for many restaurants, especially those having to adapt to being thrust into an all-takeout model. Restaurant owners who primarily relied on dining room revenue to make ends meet faced the dilemma of either using the delivery apps, leveraging their popularity while sacrificing most if not all margins on orders placed through them, or foregoing access to those additional customers or seeking alternative ways to make up for substantially reduced revenue.

After a few conversations with American Underground leadership about some of what we were thinking through at Savas, and a desire to speak directly with restaurant owners, we were brought into meetings of the Durham Recovery and Renewal Taskforce – a group coalesced by the city to address urgent COVID-related impacts to Durhamites. The subgroup we joined consisted of restaurateurs, business, and marketing leaders who were looking to implement creative solutions to help restaurants survive. By the time we joined the meetings, the group had explored various avenues from creating a new delivery service to a Groupon-like one-stop ecommerce solution. Given the restaurants' collective financial reality, we felt the solution needed to be low-cost, and quick to implement.   

We endeavored to build something that wouldn’t add substantially to upfront or ongoing costs and was easy to maintain. We were all aiming to try help restaurants retain as much of their margins as they could while reaching more customers while their dining rooms were closed. Given our collective constraints, we worked closely with the RRTF group to create Durham Delivers: a simple website that helps direct customers to join a bulk order delivered to a handful of parks and neighborhoods throughout the city from one of roughly a dozen independent restaurants who didn’t previously offer delivery. Savas volunteered team time to deliver the site in a two-week window, one for design, and one for the development. Shoutout to Discover Durham for providing the logo and some imagery.

Have a look, but more importantly, order from one of our local, nationally-renown, independent restaurants, ideally through Durham Delivers or by calling rather than using a delivery app, to help preserve the eclectic food scene in Durham which needs you now more than it ever has.