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Food For Thought: What Will Idaho's Post-Pandemic Dining Experience Look Like?

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Guy Hand
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America's dining-out experience has evaporated in the shadow of COVID-19.  While most restaurants have closed their doors, some have evolved into home delivery or curbside-only operations. Meanwhile, the popularity of home cooking and baking have soared, and the unique new drive-thru model for the Boise Farmers Market has become a wildly popular innovation.

Morning Edition host George Prentice spoke with Boise restaurateur Dave Krick and food journalist Guy Hand about the new normal for consumers, providers and food suppliers.

“If you're going to do it, you have to do it right. And for me it was hard to come to terms with that.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. COVID-19 has ... well, it has wrecked the economy, instantly putting thousands of Idahoans out of work and shuttering businesses in every corner of the state. The restaurant and bar industry has been hit very hard. And to talk about that this morning, and what that landscape might look like when they swing their doors back open, our two guests. Guy Hand is here. He is a writer, editor and quite likely Idaho's best journalist when it comes to all things food, and Dave Krick, one of the best known restaurateurs in Idaho. Among his restaurants are Bittercreek Alehouse, Red Feather and Diablo & Sons in Boise. And they join us live via zoom this morning. Let's say good morning to them both. Dave and Guy, good morning.

GUY HAND: Hi.

DAVE KRICK: Good morning, George.

PRENTICE: Dave. For the record, you were among the first to call for the shuttering of businesses due to the pandemic. Can you speak to that thought process of putting economics aside in favor of the greater good?

KRICK: Yeah, sure. Boise had the benefit of seeing what was happening in bigger communities before us. There was, I think a collective consciousness that kind of came together at the same time in Boise. Kris Komori and I were both crafting a letter to the governor, and that's what brought us together, I think, in our resolve to get the stay at home order put in place. You know, it was very clear, especially with what was happening in some of the coastal communities, that there were two paths through this storm. One path was to just let it hit hard and let the chips fall as they may.

And our leaders had the choice to take that path, but they chose not to. They chose the choice of sanity, which was we need to practice social distancing. And we knew it was going to have a huge economic impact on all of us, but it was the right choice. And if you're going to do it, you have to do it right. And for me it was hard to come to terms with that. But when I did, it was clear we needed to make it clear that, that our leaders needed to follow through on the policy decision that they had made.

PRENTICE: And sad to say, with every passing day I'm going to assume that you know that it not only was the right choice, a choice that certainly protected people, and may have saved a life or two.

KRICK: Exactly. I think of it literally as a storm. Well, the fastest possible way through the storm which is to our advantage, is for all of us to practice this and to do it long enough until we have a plan for how we move on to the next stage.

PRENTICE: Guy Hand. You are with most of us when you look through the lens as a consumer. Can you speak to the very changing experience of not being able to dine out, and being sheltered in place, and turning to restaurants for takeout or delivery only? Or for recipes. It's such an odd experience.

HAND: Yeah, it is odd, and kind of amazing, I think. There's a lot of negative impacts on the restaurant industry itself, loss of jobs and all of that. But I do see some very positive things, in that people are cooking at home now, in ways that they hadn't in a long time. The garden centers are just overflowing with people trying to get gardening supplies. Seeds are hard to get. And I think if we don't forget about it after this is over, that could be a very positive change I think. So that makes me feel a little better about this whole thing.

PRENTICE: And can you speak to the farmer's market landscape changing? The Boise Farmers Market introduced something dramatically different.

HAND: Yes. And I was really impressed with the way it went. They have a drive-thru system now. I wouldn't think that the cars had to wait more than a minute or so to come in, get their produce. Most people just sat in their car and the market would put the food in the trunk of the car, and then they would just drive off. There was almost no physical contact. They're making adjustments all the time, but it seemed like a really good way to make this work under the circumstances.

PRENTICE: Dave, people snapped up those slots really quick.

KIRCK: Yeah, It's gone really fast, which is great. And it is a terrific model. The one thing I would add about this is that I think we're just really fortunate. I was fortunate to be friends with our past mayor, and I'm friends with our current mayor. And she was incredibly brave from the beginning by being the first mayor in the state to put the stat at home order in place.

And I think right off the bat she was concerned about the farmer's market. And we had conversations with her team and with the task force about the farmer's market, because we knew that it was a critical service and how do we get it open? And so it's been a great collaborative effort, to get to where we went, from the importance of this, helping farmers sell their food at this most critical time, and a community that needs food. We needed to do it in a way that was safe. None of us would have ever imagined from the beginning that we were going to be designing a drive-thru market. And I would say Tamara Cameron and that team have just done a tremendous job.

The silver lining in it is that, this drive-thru market, I think has legs. We're talking with farmers markets all over the state, and there's actually national conversations with farmer's markets. And I would have never believed that a drive-thru farmers market would have been an idea that would actually solve the problem of how do we get food that our farmers need to sell, to consumers that need to eat it. It's working and it's scalable, and I think it's something that might actually survive past this whole thing. Because I think it's an additional way to make that practice work, of transacting food from farmers to people.

PRENTICE: Dave, let's talk about the dine-in experience. I have to assume you have a plan A, a plan B, a plan C or more, when it comes time to open your doors. Can you paint us a word picture of what that looks like?

KRICK: Yeah, I mean we've got a lot of efforts going on. I think personally we need to diversify. We know that the restaurant industry is going to be different for the next couple of years, and we don't know what that looks like. It's a period of uncertainty. And all of us need to do, in our industry, is figure out how do we diversify what we're doing. And you know, locally we put together an effort called City of Good. It's a great team that's working on this. The idea is to be able to put people back to work, providing meals for people who are in need, who need to be isolated, who are vulnerable or who are unemployed. The idea is we're going to find ways to pay restaurants to build meal kits for people who are in need. And it's an example of a different product line that allows restaurants to get back to work doing something that's safe, that's different from what they've done in the past, but that takes advantage of what they're good at.

And so I think, restaurants, we're looking at how do we do takeout better. We stopped our takeout operation because we didn't feel what we were doing was safe, but we're retooling it. It's not that we don't want to do it. What we want to do is rethink how we do that, do it in a better way. And I think we're thinking about what kind of products can we package up so people can eat them at home. And that's probably going to be part of our business for a period of time.

The downside of it is, it's clear to me that as we laid off a ton of people, we're not going to be hiring them all back to go back to work in restaurants in the next six months or eight months or a year. And so we've got to have other plans for our workforce. How do we take care of them? How do we find jobs that do fit in the new economy that we're going to be dealing with for the next year or so? But I do think there is a pathway for also opening dine-in, but it needs to be carefully thought out.

PRENTICE: He is Dave Krick, restaurateur in Idaho. His restaurants include Bittercreek Alehouse, Red Feather and Diablo & Sons. And Guy Hand is writer and editor extraordinaire.

Gentlemen, thank you so much. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

HAND: Thank you.

KRICK: Thanks, George.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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