If you’re looking at best-of Brooklyn Restaurants lists, Olmsted is certainly on every one of them. The multi-James Beard Award-winning restaurant from co-owners Max Katzenberg and Greg Baxtrom (alums of Per Se, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Alinea) is nestled just above Prospect Park in Brooklyn, with a formidable reservation wait and an adventurous menu. Eater called it “the Neighborhood Restaurant We’ve All Been Dreaming Of,” a sentiment echoed by New York Magazine who noted: “An impressive level of skill, detail, and imagination sets Olmsted apart.”
But in late March, Olmsted’s typically packed dining room sat empty. “We were forced to close on March 16 and we laid off our entire staff,” co-owner Max Katzenberg told Upserve. “Right away there was a very transparent crisis happening. There was a city and a workforce of paycheck-to-paycheck people that didn’t have a paycheck coming.”
Three days after closing its dining room, Olmsted reopened as a food bank, giving away free food and supplies to unemployed restaurant workers and anyone else in need, while also preparing lunches for frontline healthcare workers.
“We started out trying to produce food for unemployed restaurant workers, and within hours of that being open it became just anyone that needs it,” co-owner Greg Baxtrom told Eater. Olmsted partnered with the Lee Initiative and Maker’s Mark to bolster their foodbank. “Seven days a week, we had hot meals, pantry supplies, and grocery goods,” said Katzenberg.
As spring turned to summer the Lee Initiative changed their focus, and Olmsted became an official World Central Kitchen outpost with chef José Andrés, an effort that continues to this day. “We’re doing several meals, six days a week that are being distributed,” said Katzenberg. “So the philanthropic arm hasn’t ended, it just shifted.”
Like many other restaurateurs, their business model had to shift as well. They converted Olmsted’s private dining room into a grocery store with nearly 200 items including bread and pastries from Olmsted’s pastry chef, jams, cured meats, cheese, and fresh produce from their farm suppliers.
“We haven’t had any revenue in weeks and weeks,” Baxtrom told Eater at the soft launch. “So this is our first real stab at trying to save the restaurant.”
When New York finally got the all-clear for outdoor dining, they launched “Olmsted Summer Camp,” which features open-air dining on the sidewalk in front of their restaurant as well as in the garden in the back. On a simmering Wednesday in late August, the “camp” had the gleeful feel of a carnival, with eager diners lining up six feet apart to traipse into the garden. “It’s a totally different menu,” said Katzenberg of the new outdoor concept, “It’s easy on the eyes, the mind, the wallet – very fun and summery dishes.”
A key component to the success of Olmsted Summer Camp was using Upserve’s Tableside POS for ordering at the table and contactless payments. “Having the Tableside devices has been an absolute luxury for our staff and our guests,” said Katzenberg. “It feels tailor-made for seamless service, and it’s a very well made device.”
As Olmsted planned to re-open for outdoor dining, there were so many new steps of service to accommodate COVID restrictions and extra precautions they planned to take. “Upserve’s Tableside is a fantastic device for normal times, but the application is really a great fit given the COVID restrictions and how best to prevent the spread of the virus,” said Katzenberg. “Instead of wiping things down, or running back and forth, we’re able to focus on providing a better quality of service to our guests.”
Katzenberg particularly loves being able to offer Apple pay right at the table and that each server having a device allows them to cut down on paper use. “The Tableside device has been a perfect tool to eliminate hand-to-hand contact,” he said.
“I would definitely recommend the Tableside device for any Upserve restaurant that’s looking for ways to make their service more efficient in any time, but especially while navigating the complexities of the COVID pandemic.”
– Max Katzenberg, co-owner, Olmsted
Baxtrom and Katzenberg are developing flexible plans now for the fall and winter. “It’s all about survival right now,” he said. “It’s so hard to say what we’ll be allowed to do.” For now, they’re focused on ramping back up their take out as the temperature drops, and creating a few different concepts so that regulars “feel like there’s something new to bite into.”
“We think we’ve figured out a way to keep as many people employed as possible and secure the businesses through the spring,” Katzenberg said. “It’s remarkable what Greg and the team have created in such a short amount of time. We’re confident we can keep the doors open through spring and are keeping our fingers crossed that some real treatment is coming so we can get back to normal.”