New York still gets cheesy. The owner of the East Village mac and cheese shop discusses adapting to the pandemic and continuing to serve the community.
By Seamless Staff
When they moved to New York in 2005, Sarita Ekya and her husband Caesar — both engineers by trade — noticed a gap in the specialty restaurant scene of Greenwich Village: macaroni and cheese. After seeing the buzz around the classic comfort food on message boards, and being a mac and cheese aficionado, herself, Ekya “couldn’t really drop the idea.” Although they had no experience in the food space, she credits their “entrepreneurial spirit” for S’MAC’s launch nine months later.
“Our core purpose at S’MAC is to give goodness,” Ekya explained. “We always want S’MAC to be a welcoming place, a place that anyone [could] feel comfortable to walk into.” And while COVID-19 has forced the restaurant to adapt, every decision made has been with that goal in mind. “It’s mac and cheese,” noted Ekya. “It’s comfort food. It’s also food that appeals to so many different age brackets, so many different demographics. This should be in the same category as burgers and pizza and things that everyone basically eats, you know, because it is a food that everyone needs.”
Although adapting to a pandemic could pose a number of challenges for a small business, the Ekyas, once again, put their engineering backgrounds to work and started brainstorming solutions: “That’s what we were trained to do,” she retorted, “problem solve.” They opened up a line of windows, roped off an area where they installed a self-order kiosk, and created a sectioned-off pathway for delivery personnel and pick-up orders. To ensure customer safety, the staff wear masks and change their gloves constantly.They also frequently wipe down surfaces in the restaurant and require those using the kiosk to wear gloves.
Being early adopters of delivery also helped their transition. “We didn’t need to reinvent anything.” Ekya also noted that being on Seamless has helped the business reach new customers during this time. “It’s getting our restaurant in front of people that may not have normally known about us,” she explained. “We are reaching a lot of new customers. It’s been lovely because Seamless has been offering some promotional discounts to restaurants such as ours, which give the customer a discount but don’t hurt our bottom line.”
Once they reconfigured the restaurant to ensure customer safety, the Ekyas thought about how they could provide additional value to their customers and community. They started by creating freezer kits. “The mac and cheese is packaged to stay in your freezer for a very long time and is sold at a reduced price,” she explained. They deliver it with instructions for baking and have received a lot of positive feedback. S’MAC also started a program to give back to hospital workers on the front lines. “We made a call out to our customers and friends to ask if anyone who had not seen an impact on their income would consider buying a gift card to S’MAC and then donating back to us so we could apply it to a hospital meal. People have been so generous. To date, we’ve provided 1,500 meals and we’ve got another 500 lined up this week. We’ve raised almost $14,000; people have been so generous and so kind.” A newer initiative at the restaurant helps them “give goodness” to customers and support local artists. “We all need just a little bit of positivity in our lives. So we’re printing a short story that we’ve bought from a local author and are attaching it to every takeout order that goes out. It’s just something to put a smile on your face.”