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Michael Mernin picks up food from Labeeb Arsheed, owner of Jackie’s Grillette and designer of its new online marketplace, where shoppers can now get groceries as well as prepared food. REBECCA JONES/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

Some restaurants that are selling food directly:
Montclair Bread Co.: Pickup service available Wed-Sat, but ordering in advance recommended. Curbside delivery is available upon request.
Sal’s Gastronomia: Find daily offerings on its website, salsgastro.com, and on Instagram (@Sals_gastro), or via its daily email.
Little Daisy Bake Shop: Menu/ingredients at
Jackie’s Grillette: Mini-mart in addition to pickup/delivery service. Order by 6 p.m. for next-day pickup.

American Royal Hardware 

By REBECCA JONES
For Montclair Local

Where to find food?

It’s a constant preoccupation in these days of social distancing.

Local restaurants have taken up the challenge by turning themselves into markets to help solve the problem of where to get groceries by selling staples like dairy, meat, and produce.

The larger shopping services have been unable to meet demand, leaving many customers frustrated.

“When you can find a delivery window, the next thing you have to worry about is whether or not the items will be in stock when it comes time for them to do your shopping,” said Montclair resident Kate Rohmann.

“Saturday Night Live” made light of this problem in a recent “fake ad” sketch in which Kate McKinnon shares that her grocery store’s website makes substitutions a snap. “You asked for pasta sauce,” she says. “Do you want salsa? You asked for toilet paper. Do you want a DVD of ‘Van Helsing’?”

Enter restaurants. No, people cannot eat out. But in addition to ordering takeout, people can pick up staples there, too.

Montclair Bread Co. at 16 Label St. was one of the the first in town to start selling unprepared food goods from its storefront, on March 15. (Le Salbuen started doing so earlier in March.) Owner Rachel Wyman said the idea came to her when she went to Trader Joe’s the Friday before public schools closed to get some last-minute things, and everything was sold out.

“I realized I already had access to most things I needed through my business suppliers,” Wyman said. “The problem was they sell in large quantities. I can’t go through a case of raspberries myself.”

That’s when it hit her to sell groceries from her store. “It was a really easy transition from one thing to another right when people needed it,” she said. “I just wanted to share. I’m in the same bucket as everyone else.”

We Care Montclair restaurants grocery
Jackie’s Grillette opened its mini-mart on Monday, converting its dining room into a small food market. Wassem Arsheed readies groceries for a customer waiting for curbside pickup outside. REBECCA JONES/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

The Bread Co. started selling meal kits a year ago, so adding grocery items to its inventory was easy. “We had the vendors all lined up,” Wyman said. “From the customer perspective these are all new products we’re offering, but these are all the same things we’ve always bought.”

Daniel London, a Montclair Bread Co. regular, said his family used to go to the shop for their doughnuts, but have started buying produce there, too.

“It was a fun thing to do to give kids a little treat,” London said. “Now we’ve built it into our weekly routine. Every week we put in an order. It’s very usable stuff. You go to the front patio and they let people in one or two at a time.”

Another bakery, Little Daisy Bake Shop, has also pivoted its business model. It is offering baking ingredients, as well as its own menu. Flour, for example, has been notoriously hard to find in supermarkets.

“We’ve heard from our customers that they miss their favorite Little Daisy items, but they are also baking more on their own at home,” said owner Jen Snyder. “We want to give them the opportunity to have both.”

Around the corner on Walnut Street, Sal’s Gastronomia is another restaurant that has made the change to food market. Owner Verinder Caruso said that when she found out one of her older clients in the neighborhood hadn’t been able to go to the grocery store for two weeks, she knew something had to be done.

Sal’s opened last September. Though staying open through the pandemic has been hard, mostly because Caruso worries for the safety of her staff, she knows her business stands a better chance of survival by adapting in this way. “I’ve put a lot of love and effort into this place,” she said. “I didn’t want to see it go down.”

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READ: COVID-19: SHOPPING SAFELY, WITH HELPING HANDS

READ: COVID-19: RESTAURANT LIST TELLS YOU WHO’S DELIVERING, WHO’S OPEN FOR TAKEOUT

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Working with a staff of two or three people, Sal’s sends out a daily email of what is being delivered to them each day. Along with produce, they also sell fresh meat, fish, and prepared dinners.

For some customers, “shopping” from a restaurant feels like old times. Wendy Lacey has been buying food online from Jackie’s Grillette, which made the switch to selling grocery items for pickup (and delivery for those 60+) on April 17.

“It was great to see friendly faces at Jackie’s, if even for a brief moment while social distancing,” said customer Wendy Lacey.

And like Caruso, Jackie’s Grillette owner Labeeb Arsheed is pleased at what this has meant for his staff. “We’ve been able to bring 90 percent of our employees back,” he said.

LOCAL BENEFITS

One thing is clear here in Montclair. The changes brought about by the pandemic have been a boost to the “buy local” movement. Shoppers frustrated by their experiences with chain supermarkets and online marketplaces are starting to look closer to home.

When the rush on grocery items like Lysol wipes, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer began, American Royal Hardware was one local business still getting them in on a regular basis. Roy Morchian, owner of the family-run business on Park Street, told the Local, “We were calling our suppliers every day. When they didn’t have a driver who could deliver, we did the work ourselves. We drove to suppliers in South Jersey, Union, and Rockland County. We were just trying to get it in and supply the community.”

This kind of service and commitment is hard to find in chain retailers, but Montclairites are seeing it on the local level every day. Along with this, shoppers buying locally have more access to distributors than ever before, and in turn, to the farmers and butchers who supply them.

Restaurant owners will work hard to find grocery ingredients for their patrons.

“Local farms bring in seasonal vegetables daily,” Caruso of Sal’s Gastronomia said. If there is something one of her clients can’t find, Caruso said she will go looking for that thing.

The same is true at Montclair Bread Co. Owner Wyman said it was because people started asking for vegetables with a long shelf life like potatoes, carrots, and onions that they reached out to suppliers and began selling those things.

“We totally miss our customers,” Snyder of Little Daisy said. “We look forward to our parking lot pickups and delivery, but we also look forward to the day when we can see them in the store and talk to them every day.  And until we can do that, this is the next best thing.”