Featured image: Taylor and Linda Melim, co-owners of Leaf & Ladle and recipients of a Business for All grant
Taylor Melim says that Leaf & Ladle, the restaurant she co-owns with her mother, Linda, prefers to "undersell and overdeliver."
A small neighborhood eatery located in Bellingham, WA, Leaf & Ladle's menu features hefty portions of homestyle food mostly based on Linda's recipes that Melim grew up eating. "We try not to fall into the pretentious or trendy stuff," says Melim, one of the Hello Alice Business for All grant runners up. "It’s like eating at your parents' house without having to go to your parents' house to eat."
That simple formula has attracted a sprawling cast of regulars that have made the restaurant a community staple since it opened almost a decade ago. Business was so good that Melim decided to lease and renovate the space next door to fulfill her longtime dream of running a bar; L&L Libations opened in December 2019 as the late-night companion to Leaf & Ladle.
But just as the bar was getting off the ground, the pandemic arrived. What should have been a banner year for both Leaf & Ladle and L&L Libations has instead placed Melim and her mother in a defensive crouch as they rework their business to suit the current moment.
A saving grace has been the restaurant's robust, if simplified, takeout operation. Melim chose to offer a pared-down menu that travels well and decided to forgo any markdowns by reasoning that "it’s always better to have one person ordering four times per week than someone ordering once because of a coupon."
Leaf & Ladle has also declined to work with big-name food delivery apps in favor of taking call-in orders and partnering with a local Bellingham delivery service. Revenue is still down during the pandemic, but Melim says it's enough to pay rent on both properties as stay-at-home orders make in-person service difficult or even impossible.
[Hello Alice Guide: Optimize Your Takeout Operation]
One of the biggest challenges of 2020 has been "the general feeling of bleakness," says Melim, who has spent the year pivoting her business, laying off beloved staff members, and most recently attempting to hire them back.
"We only had one bartender come back," she says. "Everyone else had moved away. It was like starting fresh, and I feel like it's only going to get worse with these most recent shutdowns." Things are running smoothly now, she says, but the newly hired staff will have to be trained for in-person dining whenever that is once again an option.
[Hello Alice Guide: Bring Back Your Workforce]
As for how she plans to use the Business for All grant, a "huge amount" of the funds will go toward the day-to-day necessities of running a restaurant, including food, payroll, and rent. Melim says she'd like to replace some of the bar's chairs so that they can have a clean slate once things — fingers crossed — return to normal.
In the meantime, a chunk of the grant was reserved for a very special purpose: holiday bonuses for all employees.
"It’s a small token," Melim says. "Building up a good team around you can really help you through those rough times. They're the best."
Looking for support for your business? Visit the Hello Alice COVID-19 Business Resource Center for how-to guides and up-to-date resources, and subscribe to our weekly newsletter to be the first to hear about new grant opportunities.