Since novel coronavirus was first identified in Michigan in March, Corktown brunch restaurant Folk has been maneuvering through a seemingly relentless onslaught of challenges from navigating online ordering to establishing a hybrid neighborhood market. For owner Rohani Foulkes, that unpredictability has created a lot of stress. “I look at the numbers every single day and I break them down and look at where our revenue streams are coming from, and it’s just so erratic,” she says. “I can’t really figure out what the pattern is right now. I don’t know that there actually is one.” But one new addition to Folk’s strategy has made a big difference: A walk-up window.
In the spring during Michigan’s dine-in closure, Foulkes worked with landlord Ballet Real Estate to get approved to install a new sliding window onto the Bagley side of the corner restaurant. Foulkes says that she first became interested in adding a walk-up window at Folk prior to the pandemic after experiencing a similar setup in New York, but faced some resistance. However, as novel coronavirus wreaked havoc on Detroit and its businesses by proxy, the landlord welcomed the opportunity to help Folk pivot to a different style of service.
Foulkes is grateful for the support. She says that the window has made a crucial difference in the short-term future of the restaurant, which has limited indoor space for socially distanced dining at 50 percent capacity. As an additional precaution, the restaurant only allows one individual customer or one family to enter the restaurant at a time. That limits the number of people Folk can serve in a day.
With the walk-up window customers can also purchase items or pickup online orders safely without ever entering the business. “It’s not just for us in-house to keep ourselves safe and to have this other means to serve customers, but are we are [also] finding that customers are utilizing it the way that we intended them to and feel really comfortable being able to just walk up to the window,” Foulkes says. “They don’t even need to step inside, so I 100 percent think it’s been a great addition.”
Walk-up windows aren’t anything revolutionary. In fact, the window service carryout trend was already taking hold in the region before the pandemic with the addition of spots like breakfast sandwich maker Iggy’s Eggies, soft serve stand Huddle, and its predecessor Chickpea in the D. Takoi had already installed a similar window next to its bar to service its patio and forthcoming Italian restaurant Sauce’s pre-COVID plans also included a takeout window. Now, though, establishments that may never have considered carryout service via sliding window are adapting it into their business model. Like patio seating and plexiglass, walk-up windows and drive-thrus are quickly becoming a fixture in metro Detroit’s new world of novel coronavirus dining. Drifter Coffee, Yellow Light Coffee & Donuts, and Mudgie’s Deli and Wine Shop are among those businesses that have joined the ranks of window takeout.
Greg Mudge, owner of Mudgie’s, says he was moved to add the walk-up window as an alternative to Mudgie’s tiny carryout wine shop this spring. “We couldn’t figure any safe way to put people in there and keep them away from the employees,” Mudge says. “So we just decided that since we weren’t going to be letting anybody in the restaurant for the foreseeable future, that it would be worth our while to install a carryout window where people will walk right up almost food truck-style to the restaurant.” Mudge installed his new carryout station into the restaurant’s bar area by removing one of two large street-facing windows and replacing it with a slider. The deli encourages customers to place orders online for pickup rather than ordering from the window, though it still accepts walk-up orders.
Mudgie’s is also open for patio-only service, but Mudge says that the restaurant still consistently does more carryout business. “There’s still a lot of people are still really afraid to go out and rightfully so,” he says. The installation cost Mudgie’s several thousand dollars, but Mudge believes it was worth the investment. “It just made everything much easier for us to deal with,” he says. “We could not have done it without this window.”
In July, Mudgie’s decided to extend its wildly popular Lobster Week for a full month. The promotion has helped provide a desperately needed boost to the restaurant’s business, though it has faced some occasional hiccups with lobster deliveries due to pandemic-related supply chain issues. Mudge now orders extra lobster to ensure the restaurant doesn’t run out between shipments. He’s also has added several additional staff members to help manage orders at the window, expedite food, and take orders from people standing in line outside the walk-up.
Mudge says he would recommend the window to other business owners who’ve been struggling to make service work in a small space. “I’ve had thoughts already of next year, even if COVID is gone next year, doing something like this for Lobster Week, because this worked out way better than our systems have ever worked before,” he says.
Foulkes says she’s also fielding questions from business owners who are curious about the logistics of adding a walk-up window on their restaurant premises. “I’ve had a number of people get in touch with me in the industry, even in this past month, asking about the window and how it’s going and who did it and can I get a referral,” she says. “I definitely think that if people don’t already have a way to achieve it, they’re installing windows or some kind of walk-up situation.”
Foulkes believes it’s a smart move, particularly to capture some foot traffic during Michigan’s more hospitable summer season. “I would say do it, especially now during this this warm weather,” she says. “It’s an interesting way for people to get out and about and interact with others and do it safely.”
Eater is tracking the impact of the novel coronavirus on the local food industry. Have a story to share? Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.