How a Vermont restaurant adapted to stay afloat during pandemic

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) The coronavirus pandemic is forcing many small businesses to take a serious look at their business models, especially restaurants. Our Elissa Borden shows you how one local restaurant is adapting to stay afloat.

Restaurant Poco in Burlington has temporarily changed into Poco Mercato. The owners of this restaurant are using their storefront to serve as a contactless pickup grocery operation.

"We knew that once the shutdown and everything, being as small as we were, we let go of everybody, we had inventory still in the restaurant. We thought, what do we do with this?" said Susie Ely, who co-owns Restaurant Poco.

Restaurant co-owners Ely and Stefano Cicirello were just as hard-hit as other restaurants by the pandemic and subsequent stay at home orders.

So they've turned Restaurant Poco in downtown Burlington into Poco Mercato for a little while.

What began as a way to get rid of unused inventory, is now a small grocery operation, offering something that many large retailers can't.

"It seems that people are very happy to have this as an option. Very no contact, curbside pickup, there's only the two of us handling anything. I think it's reassuring," Ely said.

The owners say they have a steady flow of customers with about 20 per day.

And they're happy to do it, both for their business and other local vendors, too.

"We're all in it together," Cicirello said. "We still have to support everyone, so we do it the best way we can."

They're selling products that they would normally use in-house, in addition to some others like goldfish and toilet paper.

But with a heavy focus on farm to table food, their continued sales benefit other Vermont food-makers.

"When social distancing went into effect, we lost 35%, 40% of our market overnight," said Mateo Kehler, the head cheesemaker at the Jasper Hill Farm.

Poco sources some cheese products from Jasper Hill Farm, and they continue to sell their products online.

"We're psyched that chefs are figuring some of this stuff out because we need them to survive, we need our customers to survive if we're going to make it in the end," Kehler said.

Helping to provide customers with good quality food, while also keeping fellow Vermont business owners afloat.

The folks at Poco say once your order has been placed online, they need about 30 minutes to get it ready for pickup. Those pick up hours are Monday through Friday, 12-6 p.m.