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Salt + Smoke pivots to new model under coronavirus restrictions

"Yesterday was one of the most gut-wrenching days I’ve ever experienced, having to lay off so many great people."
Credit: SLBJ

ST. LOUIS — A St. Louis restaurant chain known for its barbecue has pivoted from sit-down dining to purely curbside pickup and delivery to comply with restrictions by local officials during the coronavirus pandemic.

Salt + Smoke stopped dine-in service at its four St. Louis-area locations after Monday night, and Tuesday began offering curbside pickup and delivery, with its own employees as drivers.

Owner Tom Schmidt was a bit ahead of the curve, as officials in the city of St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Charles County on Tuesday ordered all area bars and restaurants to temporarily stop dine-in service at midnight Thursday to cut down on group gatherings. Franklin County and the state of Illinois had already put such bans in place.

He said the business currently will retain 50 people on staff. Salt + Smoke on Wednesday filed a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) notice with the state, indicating it would lay off 218 workers, effective March 23, "in light of the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic." 

At the same time, the company is launching the Salt + Smoke Foundation, to be initially funded by Schmidt and the chain's other owners to raise money to help the company's workers impacted by the coronavirus-related layoff. It will take applications from the employees to cover expenses such as health care bills. A related GoFundMe page also is being set up. 

"Yesterday was one of the most gut-wrenching days I’ve ever experienced, having to lay off so many great people," Schmidt told the Business Journal. "And there are a lot of people out there who want to help our staff and others."

He said that besides his laid-off workers, the foundation would help others in the industry "to whatever extent we're able to."

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