Chaz Bloom and Hunter Toth reopened their four-year-old Willoughby restaurant Hook and Hoof
(4125 Erie St., 440-571-5312) on June 17. Since then they have experienced about 70- to 80-percent of their pre-Covid numbers. But with fall looming, they know full well that business will not remain at current levels. So they have made the decision to stop regular restaurant operations and pivot to a new (and, hopefully, temporary) business model.
Bloom says that the bulk of Hook and Hoof’s business comes from business and pleasure travelers who seek out the destination restaurant for its food, cocktails, atmosphere and stellar reputation. But most of that business has dried up, replaced in some part by local diners. And today’s diners don’t tend to linger, relax and spend.
“The intimate experience is gone,” explains Bloom. “People are flash-eating; they’re in and out. They want to support you and give you their business, but they want to get the hell out of there. Nobody is staying and drinking.”
Following Saturday night’s service, the restaurant will cease normal operations and transition to a speakeasy-style cocktail lounge that will open on Monday, August 10. The food side of the equation will be whittled down to a handful of appetizers, while the cocktail program will be promoted to main attraction.
“The idea is to create the effect of a cocktail bar with louder music, dimmer lights; to create a cocktail experience as opposed to the restaurant experience,” says Toth. “We didn’t feel that we had to do any other tweaks because when you look at the restaurant as a whole, when it’s dimmed down with candle light, it really already matches that vibe.”
On August 24, phase two of the pivot will be rolled out. That’s when Toth will begin offering family meals for two, four, six or eight diners. The move is designed to allow the chef to streamline the kitchen, control labor and food costs and survive another day.
“We’re not happy about the transition, but we’re excited to do something that’s a little different and put all of our passion and effort into that now,” says Toth.
Around that same date, the kitchen will introduce the third leg of the survival stool: premium foodstuffs.
“The last part of our model pivot is going to be premium groceries,” reports Bloom. “We’ve always had limited space where we couldn’t bring in the whole sides of animals and break them down because we were prepping for service. Now we don’t have to do that so we can focus on bringing in local vendors.”
Customers will be able to order premium provisions like steaks, brined poultry, seafood and burgers for contact-free pickup.
“The whole premise of the shift is to allow us to survive until there’s a change in public sentiment,” adds Bloom. “There’s definitely a clear problem, the question is, how do you address it and how do you survive. There’s a storm outside and we’re hunkering down. This will keep us safe until we can reopen.”