The restaurant industry has been pummeled by the pandemic, prompting a wave of creative new dining ideas across the country, from bars offering carry-0ut cocktail mixes to pizzerias transforming into produce stands. Now, 10 well-known Los Angeles chefs are joining forces in an ambitious new experiment.
On October 15 and 16, they’re hosting a 10-course drive-through dinner at the Hollywood Palladium that could be a model for bringing high-end restaurants back to life. “This could be done in any city,” says Mei Lin, chef and owner of Nightshade. “It would require organization and logistics, but it’s possible.”
The event, called the Resy Drive Thru, is organized and sponsored by Resy and American Express. Diners will stay in their cars and move through a track made up of 10 stations, where they’ll be served one course prepared by each of the 10 restaurants.
Guests will served food in single-use containers and given a tray to eat on, which is theirs to keep. Each car will have its own designated waiter who will guide them through the process. (All event personnel will wear gloves, masks, and face shields; they’ll also be tested for COVID-19 before they arrive at the event, and will have their temperature taken at the door.) The entire experience costs $95 per person, and can be purchased in groups of up to four in a single vehicle. There is room for 600 guests over two nights.
Lin says she was immediately drawn to the concept when Resy came to her with the idea. “Drive-throughs are such an innovative way to serve food,” she says. “They’re an established concept in the fast food industry, but there isn’t a similar infrastructure for other kinds of restaurants.”
The chefs came up with entirely new dishes for the event that are meant to be on par with the food they serve in their restaurants, but easy to eat in a car. Nightshade is serving Okonomiyaki prawn toast, while Jon & Vinny’s is offering a mortadella sandwich with truffle pomme fondue. For dessert, Japanese restaurant Konbi is doing petit fours, including a caramel and ganache tart infused with Hojicha green tea. Curtis Stone, owner of Gwen and Maude, is still in the process of developing his dish. “For those of us who work in fine dining, we’re motivated by creating dishes that transport the guest in some way. We haven’t had a chance to make food like this in a while,” he says.
Stone says that part of what’s exciting about this drive-through is that it gives chefs and restauranteurs an opportunity to collaborate to create a coherent menu, while also commiserating about their individual struggles. “The fight’s so real that we can’t really think about anything else,” he says.
It was obvious from the start that it wasn’t possible to mimic the charm or elegance of a dining room, but this project prompts chefs to think outside the box. The dining industry is currently being pummeled by COVID-19, particularly restaurants that don’t have pandemic-friendly options, like outdoor seating or take-out and delivery. The sector has already lost $120 billion and is expected to reach $240 billion by the end of the year. More than six million jobs have been permanently cut.
Restaurant owners have had to pivot quickly to survive. Stone closed Maud, his fine dining restaurant, and leaned heavily into Gwen, which has a butcher shop attached to it. He’s kept his staff by redeploying them to make comfort food that’s sold to-go or delivered. “We’ve had to be nimble and think on our feet, but you can’t really outsmart this crisis,” he says. “At this point, we’re only making up the losses from Maud.”
Lin herself made the painful decision to temporarily shutter her restaurant in March when it became clear that there was no way to properly socially distance in her small dining room. She considered launching a takeout menu, but after doing the math determined it wasn’t economically feasible. Ultimately, she shut her doors entirely and laid off her entire staff. This project will allow her to bring on some members of her team to conceptualize the dish, then cook it for hundreds of guests.
This is a one-off opportunity for now, but it’s a start. And if all goes well, it might serve as a model for how high-end restaurants can survive the next few months of the pandemic. Stone says he’s already been exploring other drive-through possibilities. The Grove, an upscale shopping complex in Los Angeles, recently had a drive-in for 120 cars, which Stone’s team helped cater. He believes there’s more to come. “Doing it from a gourmet perspective is challenging, but it allows you to be creative,” says Stone. “And it’s such a gift to be able to create at this time.”