During the pandemic, when lines for supermarkets stretched around blocks, limits were placed on items like toilet paper and ground beef, and the delivery times for Fresh Direct disappeared at dawn, restaurants stepped up to help. Several cornered off sections of their indoor dining areas, and turned them into makeshift general stores.
In many ways, the restaurant stores were filling in the gap left by the rapidly disappearing bodegas. Hundreds shut down at the height of the pandemic, with many closing permanently, according to Bloomberg News. They sold baked goods made in-house, pantry supplies, and essentials to their neighbors who were unable—or didn’t feel safe—getting to their local grocery stores. For customers, the curated selections were game-changers, giving them access to the best ingredients, chosen by the borough’s top chefs.
“Like a lot of restaurants, the pandemic forced us to get creative,” says Howard Kalachnikoff, chef and partner at Rolo’s, a family style restaurant in Ridgewood that was supposed to open at the start of the pandemic. Instead, it quickly pivoted into a general store. “Our original plan was to open Rolo’s for full-service dining right away,” he explains. “But of course that wasn’t safe earlier this year, so we came up with the idea of the grocery shop that would still allow us to offer some version of our menu through takeout and prepared foods.”
Six months after opening, Rolo’s is finally getting their full-service dining underway, but they are keeping the general store, too. The model’s proven to be a successful, secondary source of revenue for them, much like it has many local eateries. “One of the great things about having the grocery store is that we are able to offer a larger selection of baked goods and ice creams than if we just had a full-service restaurant, so those have become really popular,” says Kalachnikoff.
Like outdoor dining parklets, it appears the general stores are here to stay. Among the many you’ll find peppered in and around Brooklyn, these are five our our favorite spots for picking up speciality items and prepared food.
Come for the housemade frozen mac n’ cheese, baked goods, or ice cream made by their pastry chef. (They add new flavors each day and they sell out quickly!) Additionally, they offer freshly prepared foods, meats butchered in-house, locally sourced produce, favorite pantry items, and made-fresh cocktails to go.
Rolo’s, 853 Onderdonk Ave., Ridgewood
The beloved Red Hook restaurant, Fort Defiance permanently shuttered after 11 years due to Covid, but their pandemic-launched general store just moved into a larger space down the street thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign. It will reopen this month—follow them on Instagram for updates. When it does, it’ll offer groceries and products such as organic produce, well-sourced fish and meat, fresh bread baked on-premises, prepared foods, rotisserie chicken, beer, wine, cocktails, and more.
Fort Defiance General Store, 347 Van Brunt St., Red Hook
We could eat at Olmsted’s experiential restaurant every night. But since that would be impossible (both to get a reservation and on our wallets), it’s a relief to have found their general store next door. Cookbooks, housemade treats, Olmsted swag, wines curated by the restaurant’s wine director, yummy snacks from the farmer’s market, and interesting sauces will beg for you to take them home. When I was there, there was a new shipment of ramps and freshly baked bread that had just been delivered.
Olmsted Trading Post, 659 Vanderbilt Ave., Prospect Heights
This restaurant on Dekalb offers up delightful Latin American cooking, which makes it a favorite for date nights. During the pandemic, chef and owner Felipe Donnelly launched Casa by Colonia Verde in the corner of the restaurant, offering prepared foods, easy to throw together dishes, to-go cocktails, specialized pantry items and home goods like wine glasses and table linens. Order a “Mastering the Date Night-In” cheese platter, a full grill kit, a bottle of wine, and a cheesecake in a jar, and either pick it up or have it delivered locally the same night for a memorable romantic summer date.
CASA by Colonia Verde, 219 Dekalb Ave., Fort Greene
Hart’s is a favorite neighborhood restaurant, known for unparalleled Mediterranean food in an intimate setting. They stopped their dining service during the pandemic, and converted their space into a general store. On offer are two sandwich options, which can either be taken to-go or enjoyed on their patio, along with beer and wine. Additionally, they’ve been selling fresh produce from their farm suppliers, plus pantry items like tuna, olive oil, and fresh ricotta. For summer, this could be the perfect place to pick up picnic essentials on your way to Prospect or Fort Greene parks.
Hart’s, 506 Franklin Ave., Bedford Stuyvesant