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Tampa Bay restaurants meet the curbside Thanksgiving demand

What was a scramble in the spring became a well-oiled machine for the holidays as local restaurants meet the high demand for take-out orders.

TAMPA, Fla. — It was a crisis no business was prepared to handle.

Restaurants across the country were forced to close their doors indefinitely as the coronavirus pandemic soared through our communities. In an instant, business owners were thrust into survival mode: Take-out or nothing.

They scrambled to adapt their business models to the high demand for take-out. Family meals to go, special curbside menus, cocktails for pick-up -- you name it, their resilience resonated. People called like never before.

The Columbia Restaurant is a 115-year-old establishment in Ybor City and perhaps the most famous Tampa Bay eatery. But even their reputation wouldn't save them from the pandemic crisis. So, Columbia owners adapted.

"Take-out was probably not one of our strong suits and I think that we took this opportunity to get a lot better- designated staff, designated parking, cameras in the back so we can see you arrive," said Michael Kilgore, the marketing manager for the restaurant.

The changes they made have been well worth it with a demand for Thanksgiving take-out more than six times what it was in 2019.

"As bad as this year has been, every crisis presents an opportunity. We took this opportunity to up our game as far as take-out is concerned," Kilgore said.

Credit: Columbia Restaurant Group

Dr. BBQ in St. Petersburg opened in 2018 and quickly made a name for itself as the go-to spot for "new American BBQ." It's wedged just between the thriving Grand Central District and downtown.

Mangers there also felt the scramble of the spring when it suddenly became sink or serve.

"We decided we were staying open and we were doing everything we could so that meant at the time, carry out completely and delivery and we just decided to be as good at it as we could," Dr. BBQ himself, Ray Lampe said.

Lampe said they've made enhancements to their carry-out operation -- upgrading packaging, making sure to add plenty of silverware, napkins and extra sauce.

For Thanksgiving, they expected a lot of orders for their smoked turkey, brisket and meatloaf, but the business was even better than they expected.

"I do feel that the whole delivery and carry-out demand has created new customers that didn’t know about us," said Lampe, who was wearing a head-band with two turkeys on top of his head.

Lampe said the whole staff was there Thursday morning more thankful than ever for the customers that kept them going.

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