From Racks of Ribs to Brunch Boxes: How Portland's Bar King is adapting to COVID-19

By: Madeleine McKerrow, Marketing Manager

What's a chef's worst nightmare? Opening your dream restaurant on a Monday and being forced to close five days later thanks to a pandemic. Shaun and Jamie King, owners of Portland's Bar King, experienced exactly that. Read on for their story of perseverance, embracing reality, quick-thinking, and one hungry Portland family's experience with kimchi egg muffins.

Chef Shaun King in the kitchen

Shaun and Jamie King had one helluva first week. They opened their Portland, OR restaurant, Bar King, to much fanfare on Monday, March 9th. Two days later COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic. Within a week, Governor Kate Brown had closed all Oregon bars and restaurants. And, just like that, the Kings shut down dine-in service five days after opening.

So, what does a successful executive chef and drink master do? Get creative (and fast).

Some of Bar King's delicious take out options.

Shaun and Jamie quickly pivoted to contactless take out, leveraging their social media profiles to advertise, and cooking up family-style meals. But, before we dive too far in, let's meet the Kings. Readers, let me tell you - they’re pretty frickin’ cool.

Pictured above: Jamie and Shaun King

Chef Shaun spent his culinary career heading up the kitchens of some of the culinary world's greatest, including most recently David Chang's Momofuku. Add head mixologist Jamie of Las Vegas hot spot Velveteen Rabbit to the duo and you have the talent and expertise to design the perfect dining experience.

This is why they moved to Portland to open their dream restaurant, Bar King - an Asian inspired Pacific Northwest restaurant and bakery that leveraged King's Japanese training and techniques. The King's envisioned their restaurant as a gathering place for friends and family to enjoy the kind of labor-intensive, family-style dishes that make a meal memorable for years after.

Bar Kings is primed to become a Portland favorite, they just need to get through a global pandemic. No big deal.

The Bar King chefs practicing social distancing in the kitchen.

A smoker, an Instagram account and a quick pivot

Enough about how cool they are. Back to the reality/nightmare at hand. With the COVID lockdown, Shaun and Jaimie quickly pivoted to the perfect recipe for a successful takeout business.

Shaun realized a couple things were key to making takeout work during COVID-19

Family-style meals:
They are more economical for restaurants and patron and they travel better.

Menu items that can be prepared in large quantities and broken down for each order. Ribs, anyone? 

Technology to build confidence and connection:
The King's leveraged technology to connect with their community, schedule pick up times and collect payment before the customer ever arrived so there's no need for customers and staff to interact (or be physically close to one another)

But, how does one deliver this type of dining experience in this socially distant world? Let me tell you.

Pictured: Bar King's famed Brunch Box

This is one hungry Portlander's experience with contactless takeout during COVID-19

As a native Portlander, I checked the Bar King Instagram on a Friday and saw they'd posted the menu for the Saturday brunch box and breakfast offerings. I had a hungry family of six adults at home. So, I decided to place an order.

Placing my order:
Using the Bar King website, I selected my brunch box options. I selected my brunch box options, which comes with two coffees, fruit, and three delicious pastries. Additionally I added in a gruyere and veggie quiche, and a half dozen miso chocolate chip cookies. 

For those of you looking to do this, the King's used [TECHONOLOGY] to enable online ordering.

Scheduling my pickup:
So, here's the part that gave me the confidence that it would be safe to pick up my order in person. At checkout, I was prompted to choose a time slot to pick up my order. These slots are spaced out by 15 minutes, so only one patron is in the restaurant at a time.

Paying for my order:
While it might not be easy to add credit card processing to your website, the King's use payment app Venmo or over the phone. I sent Bar King a quick Venmo for my order + tip, and eagerly awaited picking up my order the next day.

Pictured: Choosing a time slow to pick up our order feat. disinterested dog

The pick-up:
Saturday morning, I headed to Bar King, just in time for my pick-up slot. At 10:45 on the dot, I headed in. I was promptly greeted by a friendly, masked worker from 6+ feet away. Since I was the only one coming in during that time, they already had my food waiting for me at the counter. I picked it up and was on my way - completely contactless! I left with three boxes brimming with delicious food. Yes, I did have to make a conscious effort to not speed home.

The goods, secured and on their way home.
From the left: gruyere quiche, brunch box pastries, miso chocolate chip cookies

Wondering if the food lives up to the hype? Yep. It was incredible. From the customer perspective, the entire ordering, payment, and pick-up experience was easy and smooth. It felt personal, safe and intentional, even during a time when we need to be further apart.

Bar King thanks for the amazing meal. I can’t wait to have the full dine-in experience. Until then, keep doing what you’re doing, and grind on. 

And, sneak peek: we'll be doing a part two with Chef Shaun on managing your restaurant costs by never throwing anything away.

About "Grind On"
When COVID-19 was approaching, no one had any idea how much it would change the restaurant world -- and so many of our lives. Overnight, restaurants either had to close their doors, or figure out a "plan B" to survive. Spiceology is shining light on the many amazing "plan B" stories that showcase the undying spirit of the chef community. They are an inspiration. Grind On is part of a larger initiative called HelpChefs.com, which is providing free resources and funding for impacted restaurant workers. Check out more Grind On stories on the site, and visit the sponsor partners who are donating products and funds to help this community see this thing through.

About the Author

Chef and Owner:
Shaun and Jamie King

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