Since the COVID-19 pandemic has forced most of us to stay at home and limit grocery purchases, meals at my house have been fairly simple and straightforward, albeit with a touch or two to make them special. My son referred to a recent dinner of spruced up vegetable soup with homemade bread as “supreme peasant food.” He wasn’t complaining. It’s been comforting food at a time when we need a lot of comfort.
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However, we decided that, come the weekend, we’d treat ourselves to something fancy. It came in the form of a 12-ounce New York strip from Arnette’s Chop Shop.
Arnette's is the latest concept from Michel Arnette and his Word of Mouth restaurant group, whose four eateries are all located in Brookhaven. The group debuted its first restaurant, Haven, 16 years ago. Italian restaurant Valenza followed four years later. Then came Vero pizzeria. All are clustered in a row on Dresden Drive.
Located down the street and around the corner from its sister restaurants, Arnette’s debuted two years ago, and quickly established itself as a go-to spot for upscale dining in the area. Folks flocked there for bone-in filets, rib-eyes and tomahawk cuts — as well as its two floors of outdoor dining overlooking Apple Valley Road.
The upstairs terrace is closed now. The downstairs covered patio has been converted into the pickup spot for the restaurant’s takeout operation, and its new Apple Valley Commissary.
“With challenges come opportunities, and while our initial focus continues to be on dealing with the circumstances that are staring directly at us, we’re also figuring ways in which we will better be able to serve you once we all get beyond these challenging times,” the group announced to customers in an email.
Executive chef and partner Stephen Herman talked with me by phone about how Word of Mouth has adapted in the past few weeks. "Brookhaven was one of the first (cities) in Georgia to shut it down," Herman said, referring to Mayor John Ernst's March 16 order mandating all the city's restaurants and bars to close — except for takeout and delivery service. "I feel like we've been ahead of the curve in planning," he added.
They developed takeout menus for each of their restaurants. A week later, they got those online, so that customers can place orders on each restaurant’s respective website.
“We looked hard at our numbers and what was going on,” Herman said, “We made the tough decision to furlough all the management team.”
Herman said everyone was kept on for insurance through April 1. “It will be a month to month decision (going forward). We set up a GoFundMe page, which the neighborhood has been incredible about supporting.”
The group also has applied for a Small Business Administration loan.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the restaurant group employed 120-140 employees. Now, each restaurant is manned by two to four cooks. Some servers and managers are now taking orders. “That gives them tips. It enables them to make extra cash on top of their unemployment,” Herman said.
Former valets are acting as delivery drivers. A tip pool is getting split between drivers and front-of-house workers. The excess is going into the GoFundMe.
The latest initiative to keep the lights on is the commissary, offering some of the ingredients that the group uses in its restaurants. Each week, a list of available provisions is posted on the Arnette’s Facebook page. Customers can place orders, then pick them up Wednesdays through Saturdays. Items on a recent list included fresh asparagus, a flat of fresh farm eggs, blocks of Parmesan, house-made ricotta, pasta and sauces, and even steaks for grilling at home.
“We’re going to do our damnedest to do what we can,” Herman said. “The new model is sustainable for us for the near future. If this went on for months, it may be a different story.”
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ARNETTE’S CHOP SHOP
Menu: limited. Check website for details.
What's new: individual ($60) and family of four ($220) to-go menu, which includes three courses (salad, protein plus three sides, and dessert). Steak Shop: select fresh cuts available for purchase to prepare at home. Apple Valley Commissary: rotating selection of fresh produce, groceries and restaurant-prepared ingredients; weekly selection is posted on Arnette's Chop Shop Facebook page.
Alcohol: wine and beer
What I ordered: individual to-go menu (little gem salad, 12-ounce New York strip, roasted Brussels sprouts, twice-baked potato and broccolini, marble cheesecake); Apple Valley Commissary items (asparagus, flat of 30 farm eggs, house-made trottole pasta, marinara sauce, 8-ounce block of Parmesan cheese)
Service options: pickup, or delivery through the restaurant (within 8-mile radius of the restaurant). Order online or via phone. Place orders for Apple Valley Commissary goods via phone.
Safety protocols: kitchen and staff adhering to all COVID-19 health and safety precautions. A checkout table has been placed in front of the dining room entrance as a barrier between customers and staff. Sterilized pens are used for credit card payment on-site. No cash.
Address, phone: 2700 Apple Valley Road, Brookhaven. 404-969-0701
Hours: Wednesdays-Saturdays 3-8:30 p.m.
Read the AJC Fall Dining Guide: The Noodle Edition
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