Restaurants Surviving & Adapting in the Pandemic: Hummus Labs
Part two of a series that explores how restaurants are surviving and thriving in the COVID-19 pandemic. Read part one here.
With an increased emphasis on safety, evolving local regulations, and heightened customer demand of takeout and delivery, restaurants nationwide have had to make strategic operational changes to help them survive and thrive amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
For our next restaurant spotlight, we talked to Joseph Badaro, owner of Hummus Labs, a fast casual Mediterranean restaurant, in Pasadena, California. After running his own catering business for years, Badaro fulfilled his lifelong dream of opening his own restaurant in April 2020. When opening his new concept, Badaro knew having a reliable and profitable online ordering partner was of the utmost importance, especially now during this period of increased uncertainty for restaurants. He found that partner in ChowNow.
Since April 2020, Hummus Labs has served 1,291 online orders to 956 guests. Let’s hear more about how Badaro did it.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
What attracted you to the restaurant business?
It’s always been a dream of mine to retire and open a restaurant. My mom was always my inspiration. Every time we’d have a holiday or she would have people over, we would always go above and beyond—no one ever left that house hungry. That was my inspiration to get into cooking.
About eight years ago, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I got a degree in accounting and finance, and I was working for an accounting firm, and I was miserable. I had the unique opportunity to take a shot and try to get into the food industry. I decided to focus on doing something that I loved, and eight years later, I have a restaurant.
You were planning to open Hummus Labs well before your launch in April. When the pandemic hit, how did you have to adjust your opening plan?
My concept was always built off a fast casual idea. In Lebanon, there’s a style of restaurant called a “snack,” and it’s basically Lebanese street food with either shawarma, falafel, or kebabs. I combined all three for my restaurant concept, and I didn’t have to pivot much because I already wasn’t expecting it to be a sit down restaurant.
What’s unique about operating a restaurant in Pasadena right now compared to other regions?
There’s a uniqueness to operating in the San Gabriel Valley. The reason why my doors can continue to stay open is because when COVID first hit, a group of people started a Facebook page with a mission to support and advertise small business restaurants in San Gabriel Valley. I joined the group around the end of April with about 3,500 members, and they just eclipsed 26,000. So the group has grown exponentially, and their only goal is to keep these small businesses operating.
In Pasadena, I’m right next to all the big office buildings, and the majority of those are closed. These offices are desolate, so we don’t have the lunch rush that we would expect here, but this SGV group makes sure that I stay busy, and it’s really beautiful.
When you opened your restaurant, what made ChowNow a good fit for you?
The concept of no commissions was what drew me to it specifically. When I opened, I basically told all the people I planned on hiring, “Hey guys, unfortunately I can’t bring you on.” So, every dollar that I sold, it was because I was here in the morning. I prepped the food. I cooked it. I plated it. The effort was 100 percent me, which means if I were signing up with a platform that was taking 30 percent, my effort was only worth 70 percent.
I hated that idea of having to give up so much commission. With ChowNow, I have online ordering and five mile delivery. So, I think the convenience and the lack of commissions were my two biggest reasons why ChowNow was my go-to platform.
How has ChowNow helped support you during the pandemic?
My representative has been so helpful and so communicative with me. Whenever I have a problem, I’ll message her, and she will jump in and do it for me. I get to talk with someone who’s in my time zone, who’s local, who’s accommodating, and who’s helped me fix all the little problems that I’ve had.
I’ve been able to see my ChowNow sales grow month over month. I’m about to hit $50,000 in sales with ChowNow. With a 30 percent commission, I would have lost $15,000. Compare that to the $700 I’ve paid for my ChowNow subscription! It’s like night and day in regards to money in my pocket to operate as opposed to paying some big tech company to take advantage of small business restaurants.
Between opening a restaurant and trying to get myself on my feet, having a way to maximize the pennies on the dollar in my pocket has been really helpful.
This interview was part two in a series following how restaurants are adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic. Interested in reading more? Check out part one, Restaurants Surviving & Adapting in the Pandemic: China Moon.