As the restaurant business stumbled, cratered and crawled to recovery in 2020, one D.C.-area small business owner is grateful for the one critical decision she and her chef-husband made when launching their own business.
Dara Morrison and her Jamaican-born husband, Denardo Elcock, knew they wanted to share their love of Jamaican cuisine, and to branch out from catering for events among family and friends, but the question came up: Should they start a brick-and-mortar business or a food truck?
Looking back now, Morrison’s grateful they decided on the food truck model for Rhythm and Flavour.
“We had heard about an illness back at the end of last year,” Morrison said, but by mid-March, when they were trying to expand, the coronavirus had already been declared pandemic by the World Health Organization.
They figured that a food truck would offer flexibility, and that decision paid off in a big way as other food service businesses were devastated by emergency orders and shutdowns.
As a mobile food delivery option, Morrison said, “We were able to see an increase in business as people were shying away from dining-in services.”
Their venues were ever-changing, sometimes offering customers a chance to enjoy their food in the open air, or for those who were less confident in the safety of leaving home.
“Sometimes people would eat in their cars,” Morrison said.
But a visit to a food truck allowed patrons to escape the confines of their homes, get out to enjoy some restaurant-quality food “and still say safe,” according to Morrison.
Since people were staying home more and more, word of mouth was not going to help get the word out, so social media was critical to growing their business, Morrison said.
She added that the NAACP Chapter of Anne Arundel County’s “Green Book” helped give her business a boost. The current version lists Black-owned businesses; the title refers to the “Negro Motorist Green Book,” started in the late 1930s by entrepreneur Harold Green, a postal worker from Harlem, which listed businesses that welcomed African Americans.
While other food-service businesses had to contend with reconfiguring dining space and providing for the safety of employees, Morrison said neither were an issue for her business.
“We’re here together — we’ve been through the pandemic together, so we don’t have to worry about putting other people at risk,” she said.
As with many other businesses, they had occasional supply-chain problems, “with being able to source some of our items — some of our spices especially,” Morrison said.
Rhythm and Flavour will travel beyond the DMV to Pennsylvania and Delaware, always checking to see what the restrictions and licensing requirements are, said Morrison.
Morrison advises other business owners to “really listen to what your customers, what your market is looking for,” and remain flexible.