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Restaurants have opened. So why can’t we take a seat in our favorite coffee shops?

Restaurants are opening up. So why can’t we sit down in Brew Ha Ha?

By Christy Fleming

Brew HaHa! in Greenville – still closed to customers inside. Owner Alisa Morkides says she hopes to open all of her cafes soon.

Alisa Morkides says perhaps more than anyone else, her husband misses going to the Greenville Brew HaHa! and taking one of the seats near the fireplace – a spot where he finds inspiration to do his writing.  

Morkides, owner of Delaware’s Brew HaHa! coffee shop empire, now with nine locations, knows well that as Covid restrictions have begun to lift, restaurants are able to seat a limited number of diners. As of June 15th, dining establishments can now seat at 60 percent of fire code capacity, and reservations are no longer required.

So many have wondered, why hasn’t Brew HaHa! thrown open their doors to loyal fans?

Morkides says that capacity allowance isn’t nearly enough to make dine-in service a viable option for now. And she still has concerns about the safety of her employees, which is why her stores still do not take walk-ins.

But the coffee roasting impressario is optimistic that soon her community-focused cafes will be able to welcome customers inside soon.

The Branmar location in North Wilmington will open next week. But Morkides is holding off on reopening plans for the Market Street in Wilmington and Main Street in Newark locations.

We caught up with Morkides to hear her plans for keeping her business alive – and hopefully return quickly to the thriving hive of activity they were prior to the pandemic.

Town Square Delaware: How is the curbside model going?

Alisa Morkides: Right now we’re focused on doing a curbside kind of model and make it really really good, and adopting a new technology to make that happen. Our current technology can not do everything we want it to. So, the one we’ve been having for like the last 20 years is not the format to use. Morkides is referring to the online ordering platform, which will be updated very soon. Drive throughs don’t excite me. But we do what we have to do to survive.

TSD: What are you hearing from customers?

Morkides: I honestly don’t, and I think most people don’t really want to be inside sitting down. People are out in droves down here [at the beach], but they’re not that excited to be inside. It’s still a rarity. For like the 30% of the people who might want to do it, it’s not worth taking your eye off the ball on the longer bigger picture.

TSD: When do you think customers will be able to come inside and place their orders at the register?

Morkides: There will be a time, but I just don’t know exactly. I don’t have a date on that yet. But that will be a priority to figure it out. Right now the most important thing for us is to do things so our customers and employees feel safe. And what investments to be to make that happen — from money we barely or don’t have.

I think what we need to do is a version of what Starbucks is doing, which is making it really simple and easy for people to come and take away the order. They get a text when the order’s ready so people aren’t congregating. It makes more sense to us to focus on some of these new realities than rushing people back inside.

TSD: How tough has it been to see your cafes — all hubs for lively action — sitting empty?

Morkides: It was horrible to have to furlough so many people when we had to shut all of our stores. That was such a body blow. And now happily we’ve got five cafes open and we’re opening three more in the coming weeks — Branmar on Monday, June 22nd. And the hospital kiosks are coming back online and only July. So we’re continuing to move forward.

We’re working to make our current cafes as hospitable as possible. I do hope that we can get people in there and enjoy it.

This is the seating area by the fireplace at the Greenville location is a favorite spot for many. French doors lead to the terrace, which always has lots of potted plants.

My team completely agrees that it’s important to execute really well. Getting these new cafes open, getting people rehired, retrained as per the enhanced sanitation requirements and safety requirements and all of that. And then just stage in customers when it makes sense.

Phase One was a no brainer — no way could we have opened our cafes under Phase One with 30% capacity and reservations required. 

Then with Phase Two, my feeling there was ‘Let’s get the cafes open.’ Just getting them open after being closed since March — Branmar and the hospitals, which have many enhanced safety considerations. It’s been quite a load to develop reopening plans for each location.

TSD: When you do open for seating, what will that look like?

Morkides: We’re beefing up our patios and really focusing on those outdoor spaces — even adding outdoor seating to locations that never had that before. And we’re not in a hurry to follow the exact phase one phase two guidelines for opening up on the inside until we really get it right. I think the most important thing is when you’re tackling some of these other projects, you can do too much. And the most important thing is to keep people safe.

For the Branmar location, I love the idea of not just tables and chairs stuck out front, but a real setting with pots of plants and a really lovely little setting even if it’s small. In the past, they haven’t allowed us to do that, but I have a feeling they might change their tune.

TSD: Any sense of the timing on the Market Street and Main Street locations?

Morkides: We’re trying to figure out how we can make it work with so few people, with most people telecommuting and so little foot traffic there. And I mean with Newark, you could run a bowling ball down the street and not hit anyone. It’s really tough. I think we will open them, but we are just focused on the ones we have opened.

Morkides looks forward to when she can welcome customers back inside her cafes. This is the bar inside the Greenville Brew HaHa! location.

TSD: Has this blow to your business caused you to take a step back and reexamine things — find better ways to accomplish long-standing processes or make improvements?

Morkides: We have actually looked at 2020 is a more reset year. Because when you don’t have your store open, or they are open at 30% of capacity of what we normally do, you have a little extra time to think about how do we improve our operations? What are some of the things we’ve been doing all these years that don’t make sense? 

My team is real go-getters, and they decided that one of the things we can do is really look at our technology and sure that it’s more user friendly from the standpoint of faster, more efficient, and also safer in the context of COVID — sensitive to social distancing that is going to be happening for some time to come. So we’re changing our technology and we’re adding a customer loyalty program. 

How are you and the employees coping, especially as you see other restaurants struggling with distancing and remaining reopen?

Morkides: It’s really hard. We’re kind of powerless. We just kind of do our best to keep ourselves safe and consider the compromises we have to make every day. It’s an interesting time.

It’s been very tough emotionally but we just keep moving forward every day. And we’re pretty optimistic about the future, though I know there are no guarantees in any community business right now.

Restaurants these days are in tough times, challenging times. But I think that these are times where you can look at your model and you can look at things and say, ‘Okay, what can we do differently?’ and maybe we’ll end up in a better place doing so.

Delaware Ave Cafe Hours:⁠⠀⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀
Monday-Friday 8 am- 1 pm⁠⠀⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀

Greenville Cafe Hours: ⁠⠀⁠⠀⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀
Monday- Friday 9 am- 4 pm ⁠⠀⁠⠀⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀
Saturday 8 am- 4 pm⠀⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀
Sunday 8 am- 3 pm⁠⠀⁠⠀⠀⁠⠀

Concord Gallery & Pike Creek Cafe Hours:⁠⠀⁠⠀⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀
Monday- Friday 8 am- 1 pm⁠⠀⠀⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀
Saturday-Sunday 7 am- 1 pm⠀⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀⠀⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀

Trolley Square Cafe Hours⠀⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀
Wednesday- Friday 8 am- 1 pm⠀⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀
Saturday – Sunday 7 am- 1 pm⠀⠀⁠

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