Hardly a month after the pandemic hit, Jason Bass, director of culture and impact at Hotel Revival, began working to transform the hotel’s now-unused kitchen into a sort of life support for local restaurants. The restaurants would be able to operate takeout and delivery services from the hotel’s kitchen for no cost.
“The food industry, it seemed like that industry was impacted immediately (by the pandemic),” Bass said. “I have a lot of friends who are restaurateurs and it was like, hey, let’s see if we can help them.”
This format, called “Pop-Up and Pick-Up,” lasted around four months, with each restaurant staying in residence for only around a month. It wasn’t a particularly successful model, by Bass’ account; a month wasn’t enough time for the restaurants to garner attention from the community, and the hotel didn’t do enough to advertise them. They also hadn’t perfected the strategy for customers to pick up food at the hotel.
But now Bass is reviving the program in collaboration with The Urban Oyster, a seafood restaurant featuring menu staples like chargrilled oysters and shrimp tacos, and he’s planning to use what he learned in the spring to make this a winning partnership.
Like many restauranteurs in the city, Jasmine Norton, owner of The Urban Oyster, was affected by the pandemic. Some 82% of The Urban Oyster’s revenue prior to the onset of COVID-19 came from dine-in, and so the switch to curbside-pickup, which also came with a shift in the restaurant’s schedule, proved to be challenging.
But the restaurant’s former brick-and-mortar location in Locust Point had its flaws even before the pandemic; its tucked-away location didn’t get much foot traffic. That, combined with the restaurant’s so-so performance as a carry-out joint in the early months COVID-19, led The Urban Oyster to move from that location in July to the Hyatt Regency’s kitchen, where it stayed for three months.
On Nov. 19, it will move again, this time into Hotel Revival.
Moving from location to location has its challenges, Norton says. Most significantly, it means that patrons don’t always know where to find you. But The Urban Oyster’s roots are as a mobile concept, popping up at locations across the city, so acclimating to this current model hasn’t been particularly challenging for Norton’s team.
After all, they’re worked in locations as restrictive as 10-by-10-foot tents at farmers markets and festivals.
The move doesn’t come without its perks. One of the most exciting elements of moving into Hotel Revival is reaching a totally new audience. “It gives us a chance to get in front of … (Hotel Revival’s) guests,” Norton said. “We get to get in front of the Mount Vernon community,”
Hotel Revival has made changes in its pop-up model since the last restaurant it housed on Memorial Day Weekend. The valet area will be repurposed as a drive-through space for patrons to park when they come to pick up their meals, and the hotel will place prominent signs showing them where to go.
Perhaps most importantly, The Urban Oyster will be staying in residence much longer than any of its predecessors — Bass anticipates the partnership continuing through the winter.
The Pop-Up and Pick-Up model will likely continue through the eventual end of the pandemic, Bass said.
Afterwards, he hopes to continue working closely with the surrounding community; forging these relationships with local restaurants — as well as the other charitable work the hotel has done over the course of the pandemic, such as housing first responders and distributing groceries — has taught him about the long-term importance of creating local partnerships.
“We’re learning more about the importance of building this into the business model,” Bass said. “I think everyone (at Hotel Revival) at the same time realized, this is some of the stuff that we should have been doing as we talked about being so community-focused.”
The restaurant will be open Thursdays and Fridays from 3 to 8 p.m., Saturdays from 12 to 8 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 6 p.m., with takeout and delivery available via Toast.