The demand for pizza delivery has skyrocketed this year, and major franchises like Domino’s have prospered. Domino’s same-store sales increased by 16% during their fiscal second-quarter because their business model is optimized for delivery and takeout. However, unlike Domino’s, some Oxford pizzerias rely on walk-in business and have adapted their dine-in models to survive during the pandemic.
Since March, Square Pizza has experienced an 85% drop in sales, according to owner Tate Moore. Since it opened in 2007, Square Pizza has traditionally operated from 10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Since the pandemic began, Moore said he has recently changed his store hours to 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. because of the slowed business.
“That business basically stopped from spring break on. To adapt to what’s happened now, I have put some booths in my restaurant hoping that I become more of a dinner place, but that has been a slow go,” Moore said.
Square Pizza has also partnered with Bite Squad, a third-party delivery service. Moore said he hopes this delivery partnership will help. If his business continues to decline, Moore said he and many other businesses on the Square will not be able to sustain their expensive rental costs.
“Everybody pays these crazy rents because we make so much money in the fall and spring, and if you’re not going to make money in the fall and spring, well, then what do you do?” Moore said.
Like Square Pizza, Lost Pizza Company has also changed its entire business model. The small chain was founded by Brooks Roberts and Preston Lott, who opened their first location in Tupelo in 2011.
Elizabeth Stripling, general manager of the Oxford location, said Lost Pizza Co. was a fast-casual counter service restaurant, but that had to change because of the pandemic.
“Now we are full service, so I have had to hire a bunch of servers. We did it at first because we get so busy that we couldn’t have people standing so close to each other in front of the counter. We thought if we do table service, at least they are separated into six feet apart tables,” Stripling said.
In addition to becoming a full-service restaurant, Stripling said Lost Pizza has closed its upstairs bar to reduce the spread of the virus. Though there is no bar seating, the restaurant still brings drinks to the customer’s tables.
“I’m pretty sure that some people hate the fact that we had to do that and full service because they are just bar people, but I guess that is just out of the question right now,” Stripling said.
Because most of her staff is university students, Stripling says if the university closes again, she could lose more than half of her employees.
While local chains like Lost Pizza have hired more staff to accommodate the increase in customers, smaller restaurants like Fergndan’s Wood Fired Pizza Café recognize that hiring additional employees could be an extra risk.
“From an operational standpoint, we are having to do what we do, but with less people because we have to recognize that everybody that stands behind this counter has a circle of friends, and you don’t know who is going to be bringing in what,” John Ferguson, owner of Fergndan’s said. “So, as a family business with my wife, myself and our three kids, we can pretty much better control our environment.”
“We have had to adapt and be cautious with what our next steps are going to be, and just kind of let the market dictate. Regardless of what the governor says, people are still going to be people,” Ferguson said.
As the pandemic continues to impact the food and restaurant industry, Ferguson said all he can do is make his daily adjustments and keep moving forward.
“There is no luxury that gives you the ability to just stop and wait to see what is going to happen; this train is moving, and if you don’t adjust accordingly, then you are either going to derail it or you are going to overrun your tracks. Either way, it’s not going to be good,” Ferguson said.