On a recent Friday night, Max’s Restaurant and Pub at the Snowvillage Inn in Eaton Center served 15 patrons on the inn’s screened porch overlooking Mount Washington. Although it was far from a bustling night, people enjoyed the chance to get out and have a dining experience.
“People can breathe a sigh of relief, and actually enjoy real plates and a cocktail with their meal,” said Jennifer Kovach, who owns the inn with her partner, Kevin Flynn.
Because the inn is only doing one seating a night to minimize exposure risk, patrons have been staying for hours, enjoying the food, drinks and ambiance.
On the same night, the kitchen at Max’s prepared about 35 takeout orders. When the pandemic shut down dining and hospitality, Kovach needed a new plan to keep the Snowvillage Inn running. Max’s had never done take out, but began offering it on Friday and Saturday nights. When restaurants were allowed to start limited in-person dining in May, the porch reopened. Now, the inn will begin taking in-person guests, but Kovach anticipates it will still be a long time before it feels like business as usual.
“I have a one-third rule,” she explained. It seems about one-third of people are out and about, dining and taking nights away. Another third are watching that first group, cautiously planning to start normal activities. The final third has no plans to resume eating out or nights away any time soon.”
Because of that, the Snowvillage Inn plans to keep adjustments to business in place. Max’s will still offer take-out as long as there is a demand. In addition, the inn is selling home delivery kits through Dole and Bailey, a restaurant supplier. The inn has been selling about eight kits a week, making a small profit and helping to support another business, Kovach says.
During the pandemic, the Snowvillage Inn has worked closely with the local community in Eaton and nearby Freedom. Kovach advertised takeout and meal boxes exclusively through the local listserv email and word of mouth. In the small, rural towns there are very limited options for take-out, so opening Max’s on Fridays and Saturdays was a way to meet a local need, Kovach says. It also gave the restaurant the chance to make up roughly half of the revenue that was lost when in-person dining was shut down.
To keep costs lower, Max’s pivoted to a limited menu and asked people to order ahead. The restaurant, normally open Wednesday through Saturday, limited service to just two days a week. That allowed the business to minimize overhead. With the inn closed, utility costs were down significantly. A payment protection program (PPP) loan through the Small Business Administration helped Snowvillage meet payroll. Those measures, combined with local support, were enough to get the inn through the tumultuous first months of the pandemic.
Now that lodging is able to start reopening, Kovach anticipates that existing customers will make up many of the bookings for this year.
“People who know and trust us to feel comfortable coming here,” she said.
A lot of business comes from out-of-staters who are dropping their kids off at camps. That demographic might be missing this summer, depending on whether camps reopen and people opt to send their children. Still, Kovach is confident that the local community — both in the towns of Freedom and Eaton and among established customers — will help the inn survive the pandemic.
“Those different networking styles are working for us,” Kovach said. “Building relationships that are lasting is important to us. We remember what someone drinks and where they like to sit.”
Pictured above: Snowvillage Inn owners Jennifer Kovach and Kevin Flynn.
This story is part of the 50 Businesses, 50 Solutions series, shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative, that highlights how business leaders adapt to the challenges and disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus. For more information or to be included, visit collaborativenh.org.