By Dana MacDonald
While the demand for brick-and-mortar dining may have declined during the pandemic, many local restaurants have evolved by offering takeout and delivery. For Caribbean Flavas, delivering flavor-packed dishes to Frederictonians is simply a time-honored practice with renewed purpose. Offering delivery for the past sixteen years, Caribbean Flavas has remodeled itself with a robust home-dining menu, outdoor seating, revised pricing, and deliveries tailored to COVID-19 health regulations. We spoke with Head Chef and Owner, Naz Ali about how the restaurant has evolved in these uncertain times.
When social distancing became the standard, Caribbean Flavas was required to reduce their indoor seating capacity, leaving them with an excess of tables. Seeing an opportunity, Ali began planning an outdoor dining area, essentially “recreating the restaurant outside”. Leading up to the pandemic, a patio hadn’t been a viable option due to cost, but, Naz explains, the structure has become a “blessing in disguise” by attracting customers. He says, “I’d like to keep the patio after COVID…It’s one really good thing we can do moving forward and people dig it”.
However, he says, keeping the wheels turning during the shutdown was no small feat: “At the start, we were running out of ingredients because we were one of the few places open right away…we had to change up our menu based on what we had available. Every single day was like a ‘blackbox challenge’.” In spite of this unpredictability, Ali still aimed to maintain a sense of balance at the restaurant: “How do we make sure staff are comfortable and not worried, how do we make sure they have a sense of belonging? You need to sit down and have a conversation with them about it and make sure you’re reassuring them. We needed to reassure staff of job security and our guests that we’re doing everything we can for safety on our end”.
Continuing to offer home delivery as they always had, Ali implemented a number of changes to make ordering and delivery more affordable and safer for customers.
Naz explains, “We’ve changed our prices for family combos so that four can now dine for the price of two”, a decision made in response to mass layoffs during the epidemic. In an effort to ensure the safety of his workers and customers, Ali and his staff now have a system in place to self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms: “Every day we take our temperatures and it’s recorded on a sticker kept on packages for the kitchen and deliveries. The sticker says who cooked it and what their temperature was on that day.” Additionally, delivered meals are sealed off with tape and are zero tamper to prevent contamination during transportation.
But it hasn’t just been about the food for Ali: realizing that school closures meant children who depended on lunch programs would be going without, he and his staff partnered with businesses to add “thank-you” snacks to delivery orders. When frenzied resource stockpiling led to toilet paper shortages, Flavas launched their “Buy a Wrap, Get a Roll” special where customers would receive a roll of paper with their lunch order. Ali continues, “We also had our ‘Buy One Give One’ special—normally it’d be Buy One Get One Free, but instead if you—for example—bought a sandwich, we would give a sandwich to a frontline worker on your behalf,” a deal that applied to healthcare workers and waste management staff alike. It’s easy to lose track of our more compassionate sides in times of strife, but Ali and his staff have met the pandemic with an outpouring of kindness. When it comes right down to it? As Naz Ali says, “It’s about having that empathy…it’s not about the money—we’re all in this together, business or not”.