If these were normal times, and the novel coronavirus was not devastating the restaurant industry at large, Tail Up Goat would likely be receiving a surge in already tough-to-grab reservations in Adams Morgan. It would be riding the momentum from chef Jon Sybert earning a place on the James Beard Foundation’s short list for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic. Around the corner, Sybert would also be overseeing night after night of packed houses at Reveler’s Hour, the pasta and wine bar he and his partners opened in December.
Instead, the pair of restaurants are just now emerging from a two-month hibernation. After temporarily closing to prioritize the health of employees and customers, Tail Up Goat and Reveler’s Hour reopened this week with in-house takeout and delivery platforms that position them to act more as wine shops and gourmet grocers than high-end dining destinations.
As it stands now, D.C. is set to begin lifting some restrictions on businesses by June 8, but it will likely take longer for restaurants and customers to grow comfortable with a full-service model again.
“I don’t think restaurants are going to be what they were for a very long time,” co-owner Jill Tyler says. ‘I have a very hard time imagining restaurants at a smaller capacity or with staff with masks and using plexiglass [barriers].”
At Tail Up Goat, Sybert is making a small number of dinner kits ($40) designed to be reheated at home. The first weekend’s dinner features 5 ounces of smoked brisket with a red wine and black garlic gravy, grilled asparagus, Tail Up’s version of Texas Toast, and surprises for another side, a dessert, and a sweet midnight snack. A second, vegetarian option swaps in smoked Hen of the Woods mushrooms for the beef.
Beyond those options, Tail Up Goat is focusing its efforts on alcohol (wine, cocktails, beers, and ciders) and a series of snacks: plates of its crackers to go with herbed ricotta, Blue Horn cheese, or duck liver mousse with sweet and sour cherries.
Tail Up Goat is also selling a “starter kit” for virtual wine classes from partner Bill Jensen that Tyler calls the highlight of her “stay-at-home” experience. For $25, customers get a bottle of wine, say, an orange from the Republic of Georgia, fried marcona almonds, and access to the class.
Same-day orders must be placed by 2 p.m. Otherwise pickup and delivery are available six days per week (closed Tuesdays) from 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Reveler’s Hour has even more market options, available Friday through Monday. There are groceries like Calabrian chile butter, Anson Mills flours, and chicken stock. Sybert’s breads are part of a bakery section, along with coffee cake and cookies from pastry chef Annie Coleman, a new addition to the group who was recently at the Dabney. There’s also a butcher section, a handful of homey meal kits (chicken Parm, meatball dinner), and a pasta shop. Sous chef Gennaro Esposito is making his own ricotta and mozzarella to put on the bread, and the partners want to add a sandwich shop component, too. Orders must be placed by 5 p.m. on the day before pickup or delivery (within a 10-mile radius).
Tyler says the move to close completely was made with hopes that the public health crisis would pass more quickly than it did. She and her partners took the time to regroup, sort out unemployment benefits for their employees, and reconfigure the businesses. Workers are now assigned to small pods to limit exposure. There are now three people instead of nine in the kitchen at Tail Up Goat, and four instead of 16 at Reveler’s.
Organizing the restaurants how they did, Tyler says, allows the partners to use a Paycheck Protection Program loan at Tail Up Goat by rotating in pods of employees for different shifts. Tyler says the restaurants have been cautious about the number of people they’re bringing back, because they don’t want to turn around and lay off anyone when the federal stimulus money runs out in eight weeks.
For now, with COVID-19 testing sites expanding in the city and the restaurants limiting interaction between employees, the market model feels like a sustainable option.
“I think we feel as confident as we can in our plan,” Tyler says. “We also acknowledge everything is going to change 100 times over.”