There is a Mexican proverb that comes to mind when remembering 2020’s COVID-19 shutdowns: “Al mal paso, darle prisa.”
The saying loosely translates, “To the wrong step, hurry up.” When times are rough, it’s important to find a solution quickly, despite the fear of messing up.
The owners of Tortilleria Perches took quick action during the pandemic stay-at-home orders. The restaurant didn’t close, even for a day, during that time, says co-owner Jesus Perches Jr., and instead shifted to curbside pickup with the addition of family pack dinners to accommodate customers.
Judging by the bottom line, the quick step proved to be the right one.
Perches, who owns and operates Tortilleria Perches with his mom, Maria, says that with to-go orders – and community support – the restaurant’s revenue fell only by 22% from 2019 to 2020. What’s more, annual revenue is up 44% through June of this year, more than making up for the COVID-related loss. Perches did not disclose revenue.
“The day they told us we were shutting down our dining room, I remember as if it were yesterday. I went into my office and started brainstorming,” Jesus Perches says. “I got on the phone with my food rep. I said, ‘Eddie, I need as much to-go stuff as I can get – to-go boxes, containers, catering pans.’”
Right away, Perches came up with a curbside plan and bought iPads, headsets and extra phone lines to accommodate customers in cars. He trained up some servers for the car line, too.
“We call them our curbside specialists,” he says. “You have to really multitask well.”
He says the specialists are especially good at serving customers in this new way, which requires them to expedite orders properly in just one attempt.
Jonathon Torres says when he first started as a curbside specialist, not long after the March 2020 dining room closure, he didn’t think the work would require a full-time employee. He quickly came to see he was mistaken.
“A lot of people just don’t feel comfortable coming inside or they just aren’t ready yet,” he says. “I want them to have the best experience they can.”
Perches says his restaurant always offered catering, but just small orders here and there. The pandemic changed that.
“Our family packs are a staple now,” he says.
Perches envisioned families needing meals that they could no longer order in restaurants.
“We saw how successful those were, and we started incorporating little family packs, because not every family is big,” he says.
Family packs include 24 enchiladas, tamales, tacos or taquitos – customer’s choice, as is the meat selection for each – with a pan of rice and beans, and iced tea. They cost $50 ($60 for the taquitos). “Lil’” family packs offer the same menu, at $30 for 12 each of the selected entree item.
Prior to the pandemic, Perches collaborated with 4 by 4 Brewing Co. LLC to create a custom beer: Perches Mexican Lager. More recently, the two companies partnered to produce four-packs of 16-ounce cans – just right to go along with a family meal.
Chris Shaffer, head brewer at 4 by 4, witnessed Perches’ creativity and joined forces with some of his own. The brewery and the restaurant partnered up to market bundles of tamales and four-packs for curbside pickup.
“It was survival of the fittest,” Shaffer says. “Everybody was kind of winging it to some degree.”
The upshot of the increase in catering is that Tortilleria Perches will open a separate catering location, featuring a kitchen and tasting area, just behind its current restaurant later this month, under the leadership of the restaurant’s general manager of catering operations, Manny Torres.
“We started seeing how big a response we were getting with our family packs, and we thought about how to expand that part of the business,” Perches says.
Tortilleria Perches has a reputation for serving authentic Mexican fare.
“That’s our niche; we’ve stood behind it,” Perches says. “Could we add fajitas to our menu and make it Tex-American? We could; we have those items. We can make those, but that’s not what we want to display on our menu.”
The “tortilleria” in the name of the restaurant refers to the fact that they make their own tortillas from white corn masa. Perches says they use his mother’s recipes.
“She’s the one who gets the credit for everything that has to do with recipes, food – that’s all Maria Perches,” he says.
While Jesus Perches’ parents are from Mexico, he grew up just up the highway in Bolivar. “That’s how I pronounce it – ‘Bolluhvur,’ you know, with like a hillbilly accent,” he laughs.
He remembers when he was young and his friends would come over: “I always joked with my buddies, are you guys here to play with me or to eat my mama’s food? I wasn’t sure.”
There is another Mexican proverb that applies to Perches’ eatery, and it goes like this: “Barriga llena, corazón contento.” Translation: “Full stomach, happy heart.” Seeing that customers wanted to support Tortilleria Perches during the pandemic kept Perches and his team going.
“It was definitely an inspiration to not give up, whatever curve ball they threw at us,” Perches says. “We were just blessed and thankful we had another day to operate and work – to provide work for our staff and our team so they could have what they needed for their families.”
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