By LYNN LOFTON
These are troubling times for small businesses as they try to adapt to keep their companies operating and employees working. Restaurants and bars have been especially hard hit as people are not allowed to dine in among groups of more than 10 and in some cases not at all. A Gulf Coast business, Gulf Coast Holdings LLC, which owns Salute and Kelly’s Sports Pub in Gulfport and The Reef in Biloxi, is finding a way to keep going.
President and Executive Chef Rob Stinson, who is known to residents statewide through his Mississippi Public Broadcasting television show Fit to Eat, quickly figured out as the pandemic worsened that there would have to be some changes. “I came up with a plan for to-go orders with a family deal and started blasting it on television commercials to get the word out before the restaurants were shut down,” he said. “I just had a feeling about it. We got organized and put in four phone lines to take orders.”
This way, he’s able to keep his employees working and diners can safely eat restaurant-prepared meals. The family specials are also economical. These meals consist of a large aluminum pan of pasta, such as spaghetti or Alfredo pasta, a full pan of salad with balsamic dressing, and a loaf of forcacai bread with pesto. He even created a pizza pasta that can be ordered. Of course regular menu items are also available. “Diners call 30 minutes ahead and we bring it out to them. The family meals are a good deal and feed a bunch of people,” he said. “Some tell me they have leftovers after four people have eaten.”
As for keeping employees and customers safe, Stinson has that figured out too. “For us, it’s overkill,” he said. “We use gloves and are sanitizing everything everyday. We’ve gone to significant extremes and it’s become second nature to us.”
This veteran restaurateur reminds customers that even though they’re not dining inside the restaurant, servers should still be tipped. “To-go orders are twice as much work for servers because they have to package up every single thing. I don’t think people understand that,” he said.
He says the cooks and servers at his restaurants are thrilled to be working because many of their friends in the industry are laid off. “We’re at the perfect balance of employees,” he said. “It was a massive set up to get ready to do this, but we need to survive. So far, it’s going great and customers are happy.”
Stinson has also filled out applications through the Small Business Administration’s Disaster Loan Program. “I found one with low interest for every one of our businesses,” he said. “This government website crashed and I had to get up at 3 a.m. to get on it to fill out the applications.”
He admits that some restaurants likely won’t be able to come back once the crisis has passed. “This business has many challenges under the best of circumstances,” he said. “To survive we have to adapt and have the right mind set.”
In addition to regular dining options, Salute for several years has been responsible for the menus and preparations for Eat Right Meal Prep, a meal service that provides subscribers with one-, two- or three-meals-a-day plans that can be picked up or delivered. These heart healthy meals have been certified by Ocshner’s Hospital, and Stinson is scheduled to meet with Memorial Hospital at Gulfport to discuss getting their certification. He is also working with the Cleveland Clinic at William Carey University’s Tradition campus for further certification.
Born and reared in Cleveland, Ohio, Stinson migrated to New Orleans in the late 1970s where he worked at Broussard’s restaurant. “That’s where I fell in love with cooking and the restaurant business,” he said. “I worked my way up, learning under their Cordon Bleu trained chef and Creole chef.”
After working for several large corporations, including Hard Rock and Planet Hollywood, Stinson settled in Long Beach where he owned Lookout Restaurant in the harbor. Salute was opened in Gulfport in 2007.
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