Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
For The Birmingham Times
People in metro Birmingham can be a “foodie” as the winter edition of Birmingham Restaurant Week (BRW) launches and continues through January 31. The BRW 2021 – Winter Edition presented by Spire is an 18-day effort to support the restaurant and bar industries in the area during a time when support is more crucial than ever. Nearly 60 establishments across the metro area are participating.
The 2021 version of BRW is the 11th edition according to Bill Stoeffhaas a co-founder of Birmingham Restaurant Week, who says “It’s a blessing to live in Birmingham and be able to experience so many different kinds of restaurants.” He said he loves trying new things and over the years, so many new restaurants have opened in the area from Asian to Italian.
Stoeffhaas said, “There’s just some amazing restaurants here and they have grown over the years. It has given us international recognition as a great city to visit for its restaurants.” But as we head into BRW 2021 it’s different, the pandemic has had a major impact on the industry many restaurants and bars have had to change the way they do business.
James Little, owner of Filter Coffee Parlor in Five Points South and a co-founder of BRW, said the industry has been hit hard. He said there are many in the restaurant industry that have not been working or have had their hours cut because business is down. He added that the ripple effect of the pandemic is felt far and wide in culinary circles.
Organizers cite a National Restaurant Association report that one in six restaurants, representing nearly 100,000 units, is closed either permanently or long-term, and one in three restaurants will close by year’s end. In Alabama, the leisure and hospitality industry has accounted for 49 percent of all jobs lost since March. They say that state’s $9 billion restaurant economy is at a severe risk as more than 75 percent of Alabama’s 8,620 eating and drinking locations are in danger of closing permanently amid the ongoing pandemic.
Little said that “we’re in January, and the industry has been used to holiday parties, events, meetings and catering, all the stuff that normally happens by now which usually got them through the first part of every year,” he said. “Most of those events just didn’t happen this year so Restaurant Week gives a lot of businesses owners, servers and staff an opportunity to know that there’s going to be this bump.”
“They’re going to see an increase in customers which means business owners will see an increase in sales,” Little continued, saying that servers will see an increase in tips and they’ll be working more hours than they had been lately resulting in an increase in income.
Birmingham Restaurant Week is boosting “TO-GO” and Curbside Pickup” options as well as the traditional, but limited, dine-in options, as health precautions are mandated. The goal is to keep guests warm, fed and safe.
The nearly 60 restaurants, cafes, bars and food trucks taking part in Birmingham Restaurant Week include 14 at the Pizitz Food Hall. It is an example of the dining diversity which Stoeffhaas spoke of, as well as the challenges restaurants are facing during the pandemic. Like other restaurants in the area the businesses at the Pizitz are struggling also. “They are downtown and they have to depend on the downtown office buildings for their lunchtime traffic,” Stoeffhaas said. “Traffic has really declined with downtown offices closed and so many people working from home.” Managers of the food hall reached out to BRW organizers about the same time those event organizers reached out to them.
“All the restaurants there are participating,” Stoeffhaas said. “That’s an opportunity because there’s some really unique restaurants in there. He went on to say that he had visited every single restaurant in the Pizitz so he is looking forward to trying some of those restaurants.” A full list of restaurants and bars participating in BRW with menus can be found on bhamrestaurantweek.com. You can also find information on Facebook: Birmingham Restaurant Week | Twitter: @BhamRestWeek | Instagram: @BhamRestWeek.
Little formerly worked for an economic development agency in Birmingham. It was in 2010, that he learned of the concept of restaurant week during a recreational trip to Atlanta when a buddy said we’re going to go out and hit a bunch of restaurants in a weekend. He said that was his first time experiencing a restaurant week. He recalled that there were some really great restaurants, good deals and the energy and the vibe was great.
Little pitched the idea to others about doing something similar here in the Magic City and “Birmingham Restaurant Week” was born. The concept dates back a few decades but it’s not like it started in Atlanta, he said. “Actually, it started in 1994, when New York created the very first restaurant week program. They did it while the Democratic National Convention was in New York and it was a way for city officials to create some incentive for visitors that were in town to go out to eat, the deal was meals for $19.94. Since then, other cities and states have taken on the restaurant week concept.”
Stoeffhaas said restaurants that have fared best during the pandemic have embraced the situation and adapted.
Some restaurants have put up plastic partitions, while some have put up tents with heaters so people can eat outside in a small heated space. He said, they are doing everything they can to keep their businesses going.
The sponsors and participating restaurants and bars are hoping that Birmingham Restaurant Week encourages people to go out. Stoeffhaas added, “We all have to eat (and) most of us eat three meals a day so we may as well try to support our local restaurants rather than eat another ham sandwich or bowl of cereal.”
In addition to Spire, BRW is sponsored by Tito’s Vodka, Birmingham Budweiser and Red Diamond.