While the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Eater has checked in with Austin’s restaurants about how the pandemic has affected business, service models, and more. Next up in this series: Justin and Lakana Trubiana, co-owners of the spicy Thai food truck, Dee Dee.
Eater Austin: How is the COVID-19 pandemic currently affecting business?
Justin Trubiana: We initially closed for two months when the pandemic first hit, but business has continued to grow since we reopened. Convenient online ordering has allowed us to streamline the kitchen, and we’re actually doing more volume in less time than before the COVID-19 pandemic. We never expected that.
Before the pandemic, we had the biggest request from customers to order in advance, but it was too chaotic to take orders at the window with pre-orders mixed in. We only went fully online during the pandemic and found that it is a much, much more efficient model not just for us in the kitchen but for the majority of our customers. Before the pandemic, we often had a queue when we opened with a wait of 45 minutes to an hour. There are no more waiting times for online orders – although sometimes we are fully booked for dinner quite early in the day.
We are also very fortunate to be a relatively small food truck operation without the high rent and overhead of large restaurants, which makes tackling the challenges a little easier for us.
We noticed a lot less tourist business and the majority of the support was from our regular locals. The love and support was overwhelming.
One of the outdoor seating areas by Radio Radio Coffee [Official]
What is the current service model?
We order online only through our website. You can eat and drink outside in the large garden area of Radio Coffee & Beer with socially distant seating or contactless take away and take away food.
When the pandemic first hit my wife and I were trying to get full for the spring but obviously this was put on hold when we shut down. For safety reasons for us and our customers, we currently only work with the two of us instead of three to four people working in a very small kitchen area.
Without the help of the support staff, we had to stop the lunch service so we could prepare during the day and focus solely on dinner. We had to put our Sunday dinner, the Thai BBQ Rotisserie Chicken, on hold until we feel comfortable when we bring the staff back to the kitchen to help.
What measures are you currently taking to prevent the spread of COVID?
Our staff consists only of my wife and me. We have been practicing safe social distancing since it all began. We have vulnerable people in our families, so we are extra careful. We don’t go out or do anything that could harm us or our families.
The food truck is separated by planters and ropes to ensure a safe distance. Behind our truck in the rear parking lot is a pickup table where you can park, pick up your groceries and go to the garden area by radio to sit, eat and drink. or to take away.
Are you planning or considering future changes (due to COVID-19 or otherwise)?
Right now we feel very good about the way the business works. We feel safe and fortunate to be in such a great place. Our greatest hope is that we can do the Sunday BBQ Chicken Special again soon, but we’re waiting for the COVID-19 landscape to improve first.
By not offering lunch service, Lakana has been able to focus on her gardening, which is her first passion for cooking. We hope to take this opportunity to become more farm-to-table, with the dream of being as close to 100 percent self-sustaining as possible. It was really exciting to use hard-to-find herbs and vegetables that she grows in the food we cook. That’s how she grew up, and we’d love to share it with Austin to the best of our ability.
Lakana also started her own YouTube channel where she gardens, shares some recipes and uses the produce she harvests to prepare dishes. It’s the beginning stage where we want to take Dee Dee, and it’s been a lot of fun, and it keeps us busy too, which is always good in such uncertain times.
How has business been so far?
It was overwhelmingly positive. More than we ever thought possible. Our dinners are busier than they were before the pandemic. By optimizing online ordering in the kitchen, we can usually do one and a half to two times the hourly volume with fewer employees. While online orders and pre-orders require a lot of up-front work, they have made such a big difference to us and our customers. It will be the way forward in the long run. I am very much looking forward to when we can go beyond COVID-19 and be fully staffed again with this new service model.