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Central Arkansas restaurants innovating in unique ways to make ends meet

The coronavirus has been tough for many restaurants because it is forcing them to rethink how they do business and offer to-go meals and deliveries.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Amid coronavirus concerns, restaurants and bars have had to shut down their dining rooms. It's been tough for many restaurants forcing them to rethink how they do business and offer to-go meals and deliveries.

While dining rooms are closed for eat-in customers, one thing they have been allowed to do is turn those dining rooms into makeshift boutique grocery and market spaces to form an extra source of income. It's something multiple central Arkansas restaurants have taken advantage of already.

Jack Sundell owns The Root Cafe; a Little Rock favorite known for having great food that's sourced locally. He said he's had to get creative over the last few weeks.

"Restaurants, like every industry, are hit especially hard right now and everyone is just trying to come up with creative ways to keep revenue coming in," he said.

One way he's done that is by opening up a grocery store style service within the restaurant to help them and local farmers make ends meet.

"We have farmers that have grown things specifically for us and they're things that they can't just stop producing at a moments notice," he said. "We're trying to help them find ways to move that product because if we're not using it, it's a difficult time to find other avenues for distribution."

Now, every morning, The Root posts on social media sharing what local products they are going to have available for that day. Ever since, they've been serving up bags full of groceries filled with fresh products many people are searching for. Sundell said they have been providing things a lot of grocery stores are out of like eggs and high quality meats. They've started the whole process while still serving their carryout and curbside to go menu.

"We hope it gives people a reason to want to come and get a meal as well because they can also do some shopping at the same time," he said.

The Root isn't the only restaurant getting innovative, either.

Terri-Lynn's BBQ & Delicatessen started out 60 years ago as a grocery store with a deli and small bakery. They ended that side of the business years ago to focus solely on serving great meals. Now, things are coming full circle.

Owner, Aaron Hether, has since started a small market in the dining room full of premium bulk meats, cheeses, paper towels and a highly sought after "luxury item" called toilet paper.

"We have kind of gone back to our roots and that's what we're trying to do to keep the doors open," said Hether. "Being a restaurant, I have access to wholesalers and I was able to grab a few cases of items that are a little harder to get a hold of."

He's hopeful that he and other small businesses can make it through this difficult time. He said community support is crucial.

"As a mom and pop shop, it's difficult.," he said. "But we are blessed to have great, supportive customers that are like our family."

Keep in mind, there are many local farmer's market stands that are also still doing business and have adapted for curbside pickup. Me and McGee Market, Curve Market, Bramble Market and Olde Crowe General Store are still working to provide items for customers.

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