“Who doesn’t love nachos and cocktails?” asks Richard King, co-owner of both Greenville White Duck Taco Shop locations.
After years of riffing on the menu, using taco ingredients to make nachos for his staff, King decided to bring that employee-only, back-of-house snack to a new weekly late-night version of White Duck that all diners could experience. The Airport Road White Duck location — which opened amid the pandemic — hosted its first Nacho Night on Dec. 20 from 9-11 p.m., featuring three or four different versions of nachos and specialty cocktails from the new program launched earlier this year.
“There hasn’t been much that’s been fun in 2020, and people need to have some fun,” King says.
Couple that sentiment with the financial hardship restaurants have faced since March, and many owners, like King, are looking for creative ways to engage with customers while also forging ahead through the post-holiday slump that — even in a typical year — demands tight budget management.
For King, that meant looking at what he already had — fresh ingredients that needed to be used by the end of the week — and using it as economically as possible to create a reason for people to think of White Duck on a Saturday night for cocktails.
”When I get off work at 9 or 9:30 p.m., there’s not much open,” King says.
He hopes White Duck on Airport Road, halfway between the Eastside and downtown, will become a viable option for those out later looking for food and drinks at a reasonable price and in an atmosphere that allows for people to spread out comfortably between the 4,000 square feet inside and the outdoor patio with fire pits.
Chef Alex George of GB&D in The Commons has employed a similar strategy. Set up outdoors, under the twinkly lights of The Commons patio, each Sunday from 4 to 6 p.m., George roasts oysters on a grill and drops his famous fries into the fryer. If it rains, he can move indoors and do the same thing, but the goal right now is to keep guests as safe as possible outdoors, he says.
Launching Oyster Roast Sundays a few weeks ago was designed to pare down his menu and staffing needs after busy weekend brunch service. Typically a more celebratory event during the colder months, oyster roasts are also simple in terms of ingredients needed and number of staff required to operate, relieving a number of stressors for a restaurant owner these days.
Similarly, Monday nights are another themed night with Noodle Night, a throwback to George’s early days at the original GB&D location in the Village of West Greenville serving only ramen and a handful of other noodle dishes. George says he’s also looking to bring back more take-home meals as the weather gets colder and viral infection rates continue to climb.
On opposite sides of town, Bacon Bros. Public House on the Eastside and Oak Hill Cafe and Farm near Cherrydale both launched Sunday brunch for the first time within the last month, looking to appeal to more diners and do whatever they can to boost revenue, such as expanding their take-home options.
“We felt that we could do about the same amount of sales in a half day of service rather than a full day service on a Tuesday or Monday,” says Jason Callaway, Bacon Bros. COO, about the choice to open on Sunday and remain closed Monday and Tuesday.
And so far so good, he says.
“People tell us they love the brunch menu, and we have actually seen a lot of first-time guests on Sunday,” he says.
Lori Nelsen, co-owner of Oak Hill Cafe, says after surveying their clientele, they learned people were interested in take-and-bake meals.
“They’re tired of cooking but still too scared to go out to eat much. So we’re launching those menus soon for preorder,” she says.
Other strategies in play include one more special dinner with former Husk Greenville chef Jon Buck on New Year’s Eve, expanded market hours and offerings as well as long-term projects that will use the land out back for more events that can be socially distanced while also looking for ways — like smoothies and energy drinks — to cater to the cyclists riding past their back gate.