Jay Ramsey, co-owner of Rx Catering, will always remember Friday, March 13, as a date that lived up to its sinister reputation.
“Our whole catering premise is 10 people or more; on Friday the 13th, [officials] said no groups of 10 people or more,” he said. “The phone just started ringing off the hook.”
The company, which was coming off the biggest single month in its 26-year history, lost as much as 75 percent of its sales stream overnight due to canceled events. Ramsey gave himself a brief pity party, then he and his wife, company co-owner Terra, dug in.
“We took a step back and said, ‘What are we going to have to do to bring in business?’” Ramsey said. “I didn’t want to get rid of the people that have taken care of me. I had to furlough some part-time people, but to my full-time people, I said, ‘Guys, we’re going to weather this storm.’”
The company debuted box lunches for the first time, an unfamiliar service after building its clientele on buffet-style catering, leveraging existing clients to help move the new offerings forward. It was an operational baptism by fire.
“We had a few [boxed meals] customers before all this happened so we knew how to do it,” Ramsey said. “We were thrown in the fire with all the local power outages that happened. We do a lot of stuff with Entergy, and we were able to get a lot of business from that. But when it’s individually boxed, it’s kind of a different ballgame.”
He credits the attitude and expertise of the staff to quickly develop protocols that sharpened the company’s efficiency in producing box lunches en masse. This enabled him to go after similar business from existing accounts.
“We deal with a lot of medical reps, pharmaceutical device-type reps, and their companies said, ‘Hey you guys, try to start doing some Zoom meetings,’” Ramsey said. “So, they’re doing Zoom meetings, and we’re taking in individual boxes to some of these clinics.
“We’ve also had a great outpouring from big companies like American Truck and Rail who called us and said, ‘Hey, we want to do 600 meals for all of the local workers at Baptist Springhill in North Little Rock, and we want you guys to do it.’ Big outpouring from the community on different events, and that’s been huge.”
Even with the new menu offerings, Rx Catering sales are off 65 percent, but keeping the full-time staff intact and the supportive response from the public has bolstered the owners’ spirits. And the slower pace of orders has allowed workers to do even deeper cleaning than usual as they wait for things to ramp back up again.
“We’re down a whole lot, but we’re keeping the lights on. We’re keeping employees,” Ramseysaid with a note of pride. “We did receive the Paycheck Protection Program. We received that money, and that’s been a godsend there for sure.
“And, I had tons of phone calls from customers saying, ‘How are you doing?’ Checking in with us saying, ‘Soon as the gates open up again, we’re going to be right there with you.’ Some even ordered meals to take home to their families. That was very rewarding on the customer end with people reaching out to us and checking in with us”
“We’re prepared. We’re ready to hire as soon as that point gets here. We’ll probably hire back the part-time people we had, and I’m all about adding more people. I’m ready for that.”