Rebel House in Boca pushes past business struggles amid COVID-19.
By Darien Davies
Transforming the ordinary is what the Rebel House team does best, so when faced with the unavoidable and unwelcome uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, they sharpened their knives and rewrote the menu.
“Because of the sudden closure of in-house dining, almost 90% of our employees were out of work. Fortunately, many of them were able to secure unemployment pay as a result,” said Chef Eric Baker, who’s been at the Rebel House helm since September 2019. “Adjustments to our menu were quickly made, [with a goal to be] more functional for a reduced staff. Transportability was a huge factor as well when crafting the menu. We then dove head-in to take-out mode, going through a daily process of trial and error. What travels well? How to make sure the food is hot when it arrives at the table ready to eat. How do you keep fries crispy?”
Before the onset of COVID, he and his team were having an extremely strong season. They were well ahead of last year and had placed themselves in a strong position to enter the summer season. Now, having to not only miss peak season sales but also endure a strikingly different start to summer, Baker said they are in a very vulnerable position going into the summer months.
“We as a team have had to constantly be open to change in order to remain open; we have had to pivot several times over the course of a few months. This is increasingly difficult while maintaining a high level of morale amongst your team, all while preserving a level of comfort for a staff that may feel vulnerable to a continual risk of exposure to this virus,” Baker said. “Our team has banded together, with each individual pushing beyond their capabilities to become more versatile, more interchangeable. This is a very encouraging result for me as a restaurant owner. We have taken advantage of a captive social media audience. One which we have never seen before.”
Utilizing the power of social media was something he and his team did very well right off the bat. They understood that they may never see a more captive audience on social media than during this pandemic. So not only did they create heavy and consistent daily promotions, but they also maintained a dialogue with guests on both Facebook and Instagram. In addition to providing family to-go meal specials, they also crafted special menus for holidays including Passover and Easter, all of which proved to be successful, “relatively speaking, of course,” Baker said.
While the pandemic could have forced him to focus only on his daily restaurant specials, he, in his typical “American brasserie with an eclectic twist” restaurant fashion, couldn’t just float and wait for the dining scene to get back to normal or normal-ish.
“When the pandemic first hit, I grew extremely anxious about the prospects of owning a restaurant and considered various options of ways to diversify my model that would make it less vulnerable to future pandemics or other potential economic downturns. As a result, we are planning to transform the space adjoining Rebel House, which currently serves as a private dining room,” Baker said. “It will be converted to a retail fish market. We will sell a variety of local fish and other seafood, including lobster, stone crabs etc. along with prepared food items and bottled sauces, spices and more. There will also be a deli component to the space where we will offer several made-to-order sandwiches. If all goes according to plan, we are targeting a mid-September opening.”
So out of a brief period of zero to minimal business springs a new business model, new menu offerings, and a new outlook on what the future holds. If that isn’t some sort of culinary beauty, then what is?
“I have learned to operate with a scarcity mentality while driving growth, innovation and opportunity. This mindset has taught me to prioritize my business model in a way I have never been conscious of prior to this,” Baker said. “My team and I have taken this challenge, turned everything we know upside down and inside out, resulting in something none of us could have ever anticipated, but something we can be very proud of and something that will carry us into the future.”
Take that, COVID.
Rebel House, 297 E. Palmetto Park Road, Boca Raton; 561-353-5888; rebelhouseboca.com