We talked to Eric Rivera, founder of Vintage Hospitality Group, about healthy dining frameworks, and this is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Eric Rivera: We are doing well, considering all the changes in our day-to-day life. My wife and I both work in hospitality, and our companies each pivoted differently but are still surviving. Additionally, we are one of the families who have been blessed to welcome a new baby to our family, thanks to COVID! We are thankful for what we have and know that every day we must adapt and keep pushing forward for both our industry and family.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Vintage Hospitality Group.
Eric Rivera: After many roles in the restaurant industry, I joined Vintage Hospitality Group shortly after they revived a 30-year-old concept, Vintage Year, in the historic Cloverdale district of Montgomery. Since joining as executive chef, we have opened Vintage Cafe, a coffee shop and daytime eatery across the street in a historic bank building. After opening the café, we decided to go out on a limb and join another start-up company Freight Farms, and purchased a hydroponic farm, MGM Greens, to support our restaurants. This has allowed us to change the dynamics of our hospitality group and the products we offer. Currently, we are in the process of renovating Multiple buildings in downtown Montgomery to create a City Fed that will house a fine dining Italian restaurant, Ravello, and an event venue within one complex.
How does Vintage Hospitality Group innovate?
Eric Rivera: We, as a hospitality group, are one of the first and currently, the only that I know of that owns and operates multiple hydroponic farms to provide our restaurants with fresh 365 day year produce! We have also made it our mission to connect with other businesses to support the community. We sell our fresh greens, not only in our cafe but also at a local grocery store. Additionally, Vintage Year has formed a partnership with a local bar that is half a block away, providing a to-go menu daily for their patrons.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Eric Rivera: COVID and restrictions that have come with it have greatly reduced our revenues due to the lack of seating capacity available in our restaurants. Also, Covid has caused us to spend more on PPE, chemicals, and other measures to keep our staff and guests safe.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Eric Rivera: The beginning of the pandemic was most difficult in this regard as we did have to let all of our hourly associates go. This was an incredibly difficult decision as we are a small business and all of our staff is like family. We brought back on as many who were available as soon as we could again.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Eric Rivera: Communication from management to our guests has increased overall, and we are constantly letting them know that we are good stewards in the community, keeping them safe while providing our excellent gourmet food, jobs, and normalcy for our community.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Eric Rivera: PPP has helped along with a few state grants that were available.
Your final thoughts?
Eric Rivera: While we have multiple concepts, Vintage Hospitality Groups is a small business, and we must be strong for the communities in which we do business and adapt. It is our opportunity and responsibility to master our circumstances, or we are bound to be mastered by them.
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