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Business adapts to COVID and thrives

NEW CONCEPT — Scaffidi’s Gnocchi Nook — a carryout only, make-your-own-pasta-bowl alternative to traditional fast foods — is scheduled to open along Penco Road in Weirton later this year. -- Linda Harris

STEUBENVILLE — A year ago, when Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine ordered bars and restaurants closed and told the paying public to stay home to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the Scaffidi Restaurant Group figured its best shot at survival in the short-term was to ratchet up third-party deliveries.

They weren’t expecting their short-term lifeline to develop into a long-term growth opportunity.

“Pre-pandemic, we never thought to do third party delivery services,” said Frankie DiCarlantonio, Scaffidi’s director. “We didn’t feel it was widely prevalent in the area. But when the pandemic hit, we partnered with DoorDash and other third-party delivery services, and it was an instant success. We’re excited we went with (it).”

Before COVID-19, SRG’s focus was in-person sales – about 85 percent of its business was derived from its bar and restaurant, Scaffidi’s Restaurant and Tavern, and its SRG catering. The rest came from deliveries, most of them handled by Scaffidi’s employees delivering to local businesses. Then came the pandemic and DeWine’s March 15, 2020, decision to ban eat-in dining. When the restaurant community finally got the go-ahead to reopen for indoor dining in May, albeit with restrictions, SRG didn’t see the speedy uptick they’d hoped for.

“We didn’t see the bounce back to where we were pre-pandemic, (that) we’d expected,” DiCarlantonio said. “From there, we adapted quite well to hosting a wide carryout business, partnering with third parties.”

They turned to third-party delivery platforms, listing with DoorDash as well as Uber Eats, Grub Hub and Uncle Johnny Delivers, “but DoorDash carries (most) of our delivery services, I think, because they invested a lot of time and money (studying the area) and advertising.”

A few years ago DoorDash came into town and developed its platform, then put area restaurants on it, he said.

He said SRG’s delivery business is up more than 1,800 percent in the six months since they went third-party.

“We never envisioned that we would be doing hundreds of orders each month through this platform, that every day we’d be doing dozens of orders (though it),” DiCarlantonio said.

“I love this area, but the Ohio Valley and Steubenville in general are sometimes behind the times a bit when it comes to these types of services — you tend to see them in bigger cities. But, since Dec. 7, we’ve completed thousands of orders — I never imagined the volume of orders we’d be receiving through these services.”

With that boost, SRG was able to grow its brand — starting with the community’s first “virtual kitchen,” Scaffidi’s Wings on Wheels. Virtual, or ghost, kitchens are trendy, commercial, delivery-only cooking spaces.

“A lot of our business was focused around catering (and) around people gathering at the bar,” he said. “But that wasn’t happening, and we wanted some unique ways to (build our brand). We did our homework, we researched trends and found what others in the same situation as us were doing — we found that in a lot of cities and large metropolitan areas where technology was more prevalent, the virtual kitchen concept was working quite well.”

This year, they’re adding Scaffidi’s Gnocchi Nook – a carryout only, make-your-own-pasta-bowl alternative to traditional fast foods. It is slated to open early this year on Penco Road in Weirton and will give SRG “a brand focused on carry out and customization,” he said.

“The Gnocchi Nook, it’s a really customizable experience,” DiCarlantonio said. “You’ll be able to select the type of pasta you want, the toppings to saute, sauces, cheeses … at the end of the day, you’ll have a very customized and enjoyable pasta bowl made to your specifications.”

They also added the ability to order beer and wine through Scaffidi’s Restaurant and Tavern’s online platform.

“The pandemic is a horrible, horrible thing, but it sort of forced a lot of people, a lot of services, to become more (techy),” he said. “Steubenville and the Ohio Valley haven’t been exempt from that. Residents are getting used to using more technology in their everyday life, it’s not going anywhere any time soon.”

He said with more people being vaccinated and coronavirus case counts down, “We have found over the last several weeks our in-house business has been growing and our catering business is starting to see an injection of business as well, but we’re not seeing much of a decline in our carryout business. We’re still doing a high volume on DoorDash and carryout in general, so overall, I think we’re seeing the value of the third-party delivery service — originally it allowed us to supplement our income, now we’re getting to the point where our in-house business is doing well, catering is doing well … but third-party deliveries are adding to our sales, rather than just replacing them.”

SRG has done so well it was recently profiled in a DoorDash for Merchants case study, the first restaurant in Ohio, West Virginia or Pennsylvania to be singled out.

“We have a great brand, a great family of customers here in Steubenville,” DiCarlantonio said. “We don’t have any plans to stop anything we’re doing here but we wanted a way, we wanted a brand that was pandemic proof, almost. Over time, we realized when something like this happens (and you’re) relying on people coming out and gathering, relying on a large foot traffic business coming in (you’re vulnerable). We appreciate it, we’ve made a great livelihood — but we also wanted a brand not as reliant on people coming in.”

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