Pandemic no match for food truck's big dreams

UC Goering Center news

“We’re here to stay,” said Kristen Bailey, co-owner of Sweets & Meats BBQ.

That’s quite a bold statement to come from a restaurant and catering business during the COVID-19 pandemic but it reflects the confidence, innovation and resilience of Mt. Washington-based Sweets & Meats BBQ.

Sweets & Meats, unlike many in the restaurant industry, never closed during the pandemic. It also retained all of its employees, including growing its team by 36%.

Within weeks of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s stay-at-home order Sweets & Meats lost $400,000 in revenue. The pandemic meant that Sweets & Meats wouldn’t be catering festivals, weddings, corporate events, fundraisers, graduation parties and other special occasions. Clients who cancelled their contracts were refunded.

The new normal forced Sweets & Meats to change in order to survive. And it did just that. It introduced online ordering and curbside pickup that now accounts for 50 percent of the company’s restaurant business.

With its food truck, Sweets & Meats started scheduling safe, socially-distanced neighborhood stops. Those visits included online ordering and payments to reduce in-person contact and encourage pre-ordering to make preparations easier.

“We were constantly pivoting and trying new things. … We were willing to take risks, calculated risks, and do whatever it took [to survive],” Bailey said.

Sweets & Meats expanded its market and acquired new customers. From the middle of March to the end of May, Sweets & Meats made as many as 12 neighborhood stops a week.

“The first four months I was working double shifts on the food truck, 100-plus degrees with a mask on,” Bailey said. “It was very trying. … Our entire team did what they had to do to ensure that we survived.”

For its deliveries, Sweets & Meats turned off third-party delivery apps and purchased a van. Now it runs all of its deliveries. It started focusing on box meals and catering with its food truck to prevent the possible spread of the coronavirus.

A nationwide meat shortage was another problem that Sweets & Meats overcame. It created new menu items and now partners with Queen City Sausage. A 35 percent increase in food costs forced Sweets & Meats to monitor how it conducts its business, minimizes risks and makes sound decisions.

“Losing our business, which is our family’s legacy, is not an option,” Bailey said. “So, we’re trying new things and learning a great deal along the way. We are one of the lucky ones.”

Featured image at top: Kristen Bailey, also known as “Lady Boss” of Sweets & Meats BBQ, pictured in her Mt. Washington carry-out restaurant.

Sweets & Meats is a Goering Center core member, and the Goering Center is sharing this content as part of its Business Courier supplement for the 2020 Family & Private Business Awards. View more of the digital supplement here.

About Sweets & Meats BBQ
Sweets & Meats BBQ is a caterer and carry-out restaurant with two food trucks that specializes in smoked meats, homemade side dishes and desserts. The restaurant is located in the same neighborhood where CEO Kristen Bailey and chief operating officer Anton Gaffney have been long-time residents. The Small Business Administration recognized Bailey as its 2019 Ohio Small Business Person of the Year. Bailey currently serves on the National Small Business Development Centers Advisory Board.

About the Goering Center for Family & Private Business
Established in 1989, the Goering Center serves more than 400 member companies, making it North America’s largest university-based educational non-profit center for family and private businesses. The Center’s mission is to nurture and educate family and private businesses to drive a vibrant economy. Affiliation with the Carl H. Lindner College of Business at the University of Cincinnati provides access to a vast resource of business programing and expertise. Goering Center members receive real-world insights that enlighten, strengthen and prolong family and private business success. For more information on the Center, participation and membership visit goering.uc.edu.