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Perkins: From Carhop to Tent Dining

HOW A LOCAL RESTAURANT PIVOTS DURING COVID-19 TO BETTER SERVE CUSTOMERS

Article by Karen Kwong

Photography by Karen Kwong + Provided

Many of you might have heard of Perkins, a high-quality family dining restaurant chain with 299 locations in 2 Canada Providences and 32 US States.

During the pandemic, their local store here in East Brunswick, NJ really caught my attention with what they are doing to serve their customers better. So I reached out to them through Instagram and inquired about an on-site visit.

Above: Perkins East Brunswick, NJ Location

Meet the Owners

Perkins East Brunswick was opened in 2004 under Ismael Fallas's (Mayo) supervision, and he was the manager for about eight years since the day the restaurant was first opened. In 2006, Roy Morera became a server at the same establishment for about two years. In 2016, Roy came back to work at Perkins as a manager, and soon after in 2019, they had the opportunity to become the owners of the restaurant.

Mayo and Roy are originally from Costa Rica, raised with strong family values and a sense of empathy. At the age of 12, Mayo lost his father, having to take care of his three younger siblings together with his mom. That situation forced him to stop going to school, to mature faster and develop a strong character.

Roy is the youngest of 10 siblings. Coming from a big, traditional family taught him important values of appreciation, sharing and gratitude. He came to the U.S. looking for a brighter future after studying chemical engineering at the University of Costa Rica.

"We were always looking to own a business and become independent. That entrepreneurial spirit made us invest in real state, coffee plantations and other small business in Costa Rica before we decided to invest here in the U.S. Perkins has allowed us to fulfill the American dream and become an inspiration for others, our families and the Latino community. If you work hard and commit yourself to learn and become your own boss, you can make it!" –Mayo and Roy, owners of Perkins East Brunswick

Above: On-site visit photo of Karen (the author) with Perkins East Brunswick owners Roy (center) and Mayo (right)

Pivoting during COVID-19

Like most businesses, Perkins East Brunswick is greatly affected by COVID-19. Their immediate challenge was to cover their expenses. It became impossible to reach their break-even numbers when their sales went down 90% at the beginning of the pandemic. Since some expenses remained the same (such as rent), the government loan was necessary to keep them afloat. 

Another stumbling rock was trying to keep in touch with their regular customers, since a good portion of them are elderly. However, these circumstances gave them the opportunity to reach a new crowd: Millennials! They started advertising through Instagram and Facebook, and soon after, it became successful. They could see that people started to order more and call for more information. (I am among one of those people who was attracted by their Instagram posts and stories.)

Perkins East Brunswick didn't forget to give back to the community despite their hardship. They started supporting local entities such as the East Brunswick Police Department, South River Police Department, Sayreville Police Department, Robert Wood Johnson Hospital and St. Peters Hospital. East Brunswick Chamber of Commerce and many other organizations helped them with their exposure on social media as well.

Top Photo: East Brunswick Regional Chamber of Commerce Networking Breakfast Event (Pre COVID-19)

Bottom Photos: Perkins East Brunswick supporting local eternities during COVID-19

The Carhop Idea

As franchisees, Mayo and Roy must comply with all regulations from Perkins Corporate. However, at the same time, they have room to be creative and put their heart out on each meal they prepare for their customers. That makes a big difference in the restaurant business.

Mayo and Roy realized they needed to get out of their comfort zone and become innovative during this difficult time. They thought about setting up a big screen in the parking lot and re-creating the old drive-in cinema, an idea they decided not to implement at that time. It wasn't until they saw another restaurant owner offering carhop that they decided to do it as well. All their staff members were very excited about the idea, and they recorded a mini commercial for social media. 

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Sometimes, the carhop services were carried out on roller skates.

During my on-site visit, I inquired about carhop experience. It was quite interesting. Both my husband and I enjoyed it!

Outdoor Dining: The Next Big Project

In anticipation of the opening of outdoor dining in NJ, Mayo and Roy started planning in accordance with all state requirements for outdoor dining. Their tables are six feet apart or more. Air flows constantly through the tent. They have protecting barriers. Signage is in place.

"We are in compliance with the fire department. We protect our customer from debris and dust possibly coming from the highway. Hand sanitizer is available. All furniture is sanitized constantly. Mask use, contactless menu and more security rules are effective. We wanted to create a space where besides enjoying our food, you could feel comfortable and forget a little about the tough situation we are going through."
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Above: How the Contactless Menu at Perkins Works

Above: Day and Night Views of Perkins East Brunswick's Outdoor Dining Tent

Above: View from Inside the Outdoor Dining Tent

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Above: Staff at Perkins East Brunswick Busy Serving Outdoor Dining Customers

Now, Mayo and Roy are looking into remodeling part of the restaurant in order to be able to seat people inside. Some cities are allowing restaurants to put sliding doors or remove windows to create a safe indoor seating area. Mayo and Roy are getting prepared for winter with space heaters, another tent that connects the restaurant to the outdoor dining area, and lighting for the short dark days coming ahead—all these just in case they have to provide outdoor seating for a longer period of time.

Above: Interior View of Perkins East Brunswick

The Food

Perkins is famous for its pancakes, unique premium omelets, coffee, eggs, homemade Belgian waffles, salads, burgers and melt sandwiches. There's also a mouth-watering selection of premium freshly baked Mammoth Muffins, cookies, cream pies, fruit pies and specialty pastries every day. (Source: Perkins Corporate Website)

I especially love the creative waffle selections. You can get waffles with chicken tenders plain or in Buffalo sauce, fruit waffles, Oreo waffles, waffle platter with eggs and meat, ice cream waffles, Nutella waffles and chocolate chip waffles.

And don't forget to try the refreshing summer beverages!

Going Forward

Mayo and Roy are determined to provide the best family dining experience to their customers.

"Our mission at Perkins is to provide an unforgettable experience to our customers through our service, food and personal connections. We strive to make each customer part of our family. We know how important the human factor is in this industry, and engaging with people comes naturally for us because we genuinely care about others."  

Above: Group Picture of Perkins East Brunswick Staff During My On-Site Visit:

Roy Morera, Ismael Fallas – Owners

Alfonso Medina, Zaira Avila and Susana Avila – Servers

Follow Perkins East Brunswick on Instagram and Facebook to get the latest updates and special offers.

Photos in this article are either taken by Karen (the author) during her on-site visit or are provided by Perkins East Brunswick.

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