Only in 2020 could “Restaurant Week” involve a month-long celebration of takeout.
Tuesday kicks off “Harrisburg Takeout Month,” organized by the nonprofit Harrisburg Downtown Improvement District (DID). It replaces Harrisburg Restaurant Week, in its 12th year in the capital city.
“Obviously 2020 is a really weird year, so we were thinking about how best to reconfigure Restaurant Week so that restaurants and diners could feel safe both eating and serving,” said Sydney Musser of the DID. “We decided the best and safest way to reach people was through takeout.”
Area residents are encouraged to try new restaurants by ordering takeout from Harrisburg’s eateries. The DID will be highlighting a different city restaurant every day in September via their social media channels, to showcase what Musser calls a “great diversity” in culinary options.
“It’s a brilliant idea by the DID,” said Devan Drabik of Explore HBG. “With the restrictions in place for capacity, I know restaurants are struggling to make ends meet. They desperately need people to order takeout to pay their staff and keep the lights on.”
Pizza, the OG takeout item, is powering Knead Slice Shop through the pandemic.
“We’re about 30% below where we thought we’d be at this point,” said Jennie O’Neill, Knead co-owner. “With no office workers in town for lunch, we’ve had a tremendous amount of support from the neighborhood, and that’s kept us at a good level of business to make it through.”
She’s cooked up a new promotion in conjunction with Takeout Month—a family meal that includes a large order of knots, salad and a large plain pie, for $30. Knead also offers online ordering and curbside pickup.
Some Harrisburg restaurants, including Café Fresco, offer free 15-minute parking for takeout pickup—handy for the morning and afternoon hours. Parking in most of downtown Harrisburg after 5 p.m. is free.
“Everything on the menu can be made to-go—breakfast, lunch and dinner,” said Brian Fertenbaugh of Café Fresco. “Our cashew chicken and broccoli is a popular takeout item that travels well, and our to-go cocktails have also been very popular. Alcohol is normally 40% of our sales, so we’ve had to restructure our business.”
Café Fresco’s to-go cocktail menu includes specialty martinis, including an espresso martini. Like Knead, Café Fresco is offering family style meals for the month of September.
Many city restaurants are following suit and taking takeout up a notch.
“We keep evolving to adapt to the changes. We recently became a kosher restaurant, which has brought in a lot of new customers,” said Kristin Messner-Baker of The Vegetable Hunter. “We have been doing cocktails to-go and our boutique brewery’s crowler sales have gone up a lot, because everyone always loves beer whether there’s a pandemic or not.”
During Takeout Month, The Vegetable Hunter is offering weekly vegan specials, plus beer specials. September releases include a pumpkin espresso stout and a cherry Brett. The eatery is also offering dessert specials and recently added delivery partners such as Grub Hub and Uber Eats.
Takeout isn’t everyone’s jam. At Note Bistro and Winebar, owner Ruth Prall said her menu doesn’t translate well “into styrofoam.” And she notes the “excessive” cost of takeout packaging.
“We’ve actually been doing pretty well, weather permitting of course,” Prall said. “We happen to have a pretty sizable outside area, so as long as it doesn’t rain we can manage to make up for the deficit inside. I’m trying not to think or fret too far into the future—I’m confident we will come up with some creative ideas if need be.”
For takeout inspo, Musser and Drabik encourage area residents to explore their organizations’ websites. The DID’s website maps 68 restaurants within the district; Explore HBG’s website features 75 city eateries.
“I would remind people to think about where they’re spending their dollars during this time,” Drabik said. “It’s the mom and pop restaurants, the unique small places that we treasure that we should support.”