Takeout cocktails and drink orders might just be one of the few silver linings to this whole COVID-19 crisis. (We all have our coping mechanisms for the pandemic—don’t judge.) But while Saratoga Springs, like many other Capital Region communities, has gone to great lengths to advertise its food scene’s takeout and to-go options—even creating a “Take Out Week” in March—many restaurant workers are still scrambling to adapt to the new takeout-or-delivery-only reality created by the outbreak. For a deeper dive, Saratoga Living set up a “virtual” ride-along with Kelsey Whalen, owner of Whole Harvest in Downtown Saratoga, to see what her restaurant and foodservice business has turned into in the age of COVID-19. (Check out our first Ride-Along with the Saratoga Springs Police Department here.)
Working From Home • 9am
On a Sunday morning, Whalen and I “meet up” at her place via FaceTime. Though she usually goes into Whole Harvest around 10:30am or 11am, her day actually starts earlier, at home, going over sales numbers on her laptop or checking in with the restaurant’s chefs. Though she’s grateful to be in business right now, Whalen says that COVID-19 has made things chaotic. “Our one-year anniversary was on March 14, and we had this big celebration we had to cancel,” she says. “But I feel for all the full-service restaurants with waiters and bartenders. Every day’s like, ‘What the hell is going to happen today?’”
Heading to Work • 11:10am
Whalen meets with her head chef, Kara Harrison, to do some meal prep at Whole Harvest’s location on Caroline Street. This morning, they’re making something special: three different large salads, part of a dinner for Saratoga’s homeless population sponsored by Code Blue and Leadership Saratoga’s Class of 2019.
Prep Time • 11:35am
Whalen and Harrison prep for their meal subscriptions, which will be delivered later this evening. Whole Harvest currently offers two meal subscription programs, one for regular $12 meals called Home to Harvest, and a brand-new program for low-income seniors. “Typically, we would prep at night for this,” Whalen says, “but because it’s slow, we get it done during the day to make for an earlier delivery.”
Shopping During The Pandemic • 12:36pm
There have been a few last-minute signups to the Home to Harvest meal program. Since the restaurant delivers these meals in reusable Pyrex glass dishes, Whalen makes a quick trip out to Target to pick up some more. Shopping during the pandemic, especially as a food industry worker, feels almost like crossing over into enemy territory. Whalen wears gloves and a mask inside all grocery stores as a further precaution to protect her staff.
Takeout • 1:41pm
Whalen leaves a to-go order outside for curbside pickup. (The restaurant also partners with DoorDash for delivery of personal orders.) Before the pandemic, Whole Harvest would make 35-50 meals on a given Sunday. That number, of course, would’ve included customers dining in. Today, there have been fewer than 10 delivery/pickup orders. “People are still very nervous to order out,” says Whalen. “I’d say business dropped off about 10-20 percent when we closed the doors.” (Whalen has since told me that she’s down an average of 60-80 percent on any given day. “Consistency has completely gone
out the window,” she says.)
Break Time • 2:30pm
While staff continue to hold down the fort at the restaurant, Whalen heads back home for a quick spin workout followed by vegan nachos and a protein smoothie. She also manages to squeeze in a 30-minute walk with her fiancé. Both of their schedules are so hectic that Whalen says a half hour per day is about all the time they have to spend together.
More Prep Work • 5:13pm
Back at Whole Harvest’s kitchen, Whalen joins Ashley Daurio, the restaurant’s meal subscription coordinator, to put together this evening’s Harvest to Home meal subscriptions. On the menu tonight? Carrot dal with cucumber-mint dressing and fried mushroom coconut rice served with Whole Harvest’s signature salads and grain bowls. The program launched back in February and already has 14 subscribers. Whalen’s goal is “to grow these meal subscriptions programs enough to where that’s all we do at night.”
Drop Off • 6:30pm
Whalen leaves four meals for low-income seniors with Lawrence Barisic, who works with the Saratoga Senior Center. Tonight, Whole Harvest made the seniors veggie rice with a hearty black bean soup.
Birthday Celebration • 6:47pm
Back at the restaurant, Whalen has a quick glass of wine with Daurio, who came into work on her birthday today. “It was just one glass,” says Whalen, with a laugh.
Final Delivery • 7:39pm
It’s the last meal subscription delivery of the night, which means Whalen can finally go home. She says she plans on eating a meal with her family and then plopping on the couch with a glass of wine. Not a bad idea. I tell her to enjoy her meal and wine and then decide to do the same.
BEST THING I SAW: It was incredible to see, in just one day, how much Whalen and her employees do for the community. From making food for Saratoga’s homeless population to providing affordable meal subscriptions to our seniors, I’ve come to realize that food industry and restaurant workers are essential.
WORST THING I SAW: That’s easy: COVID-19. Whether it’s diminishing business for Whalen’s restaurant, and no doubt most other restaurants throughout the state, or creating all the extra precautions she and her workers are having to take right now, the virus is singlehandedly decimating the food industry. Even with takeout and delivery still available, most restaurants in the Spa City are hurting right now.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Even after the COVID-19 crisis subsides and things begin to return to normal (who knows how long that will take to happen or what it will look like?), one thing will remain unchanged: People in the food industry are hard workers—and most of them don’t make a lot of money. I may be working from home for now, but the next time I place a to-go order, I’ll be sure to leave an extra big tip.