Hyde Park cafe Flightpath Coffeehouse turned itself into a full-on neighborhood grocery store and commissary as businesses have changed service models in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. That way, the coffee shop was able to stay open while also offering a way to help furloughed workers by offering at- or low-cost food items and help feed the neighborhood.
“It became one of the only options available to us,” said co-owner Jason Burch. After the mayor ordered the shuttering of Austin dining rooms in mid-March, “we were allowed to sell whole foods like other restaurants.”
Marketplaces and food stores were able to stay open during this time, because those services were considered essentials, and restaurants were able to still sell takeout and delivery orders. With that in mind, many restaurants, much like Flightpath, have added market components to their lineups, as a way to offer more items to customers while also making use of surplus stocks, during this time.
Burch and co-owner Angela Catanzaro were already working with a vendor that sold organic products. On March 20, they shifted gears and turned the coffee shop into a store, dubbed Angie’s Bodega, where customers could buy organic produce and other food items such as flour, rice, and beans through its website or in person.
Flight is also serving to-go coffee, which still accounts for much of its revenue. However, sales from the grocery has helped balance out the loss in business since March. Burch said the coffee shop came about $1,000 short of breaking even in March, which is still survivable for the business.
Kristin’s Commissary — separate from the grocery — came about because Flightpath had some extra produce that it specifically wanted to sell to people who had lost their jobs. They’ve been been able to supply these neighbors, via Nextdoor, with at-cost oats, rice, and other essential food items. This means they pay for the actual cost of each item with no additional markups.
When people began to hear about the mission of Flightpath’s commissary, neighbors began to donate money to directly to the cause. “That’s what basically dropped the price down to essentially free” for a lot of items, Burch said. “If someone makes a $50 donation to the commissary, that buys a case of eggs, an entire 50-pound sack of pinto beans, and rice. That can feed a whole lot of people.” Prices change often because of daily costs and these donations. At one point, flour was 45 cents per pint, oats were 72 cents, and eggs $1.98 a dozen.
Burch isn’t asking for proof of the loss of a job. “No, we’re not asking for a certificate,” Burch said. “We’re working on the honor system.” And that system has by and large been respected. “Take as much as you need, and leave the rest for the person behind you” has been the edict.
Burch said while Flight’s patio opened for dine-in service last week, in compliance with the Texas governor’s executive order, the shop will not reopen for indoor seating “with such an uncertain situation.”
The grocery will continue to remain open until the pandemic ends and Flightpath chooses to reopen for full dine-in service. The commissary is already winding down at this time, Burch reported, because many of the people it was serving have now secured unemployment and government stimulus checks.
“It was a great thing for two weeks, but as soon as people started getting unemployment checks and stimulus checks” it slowed down, Burch said. “We’re getting fewer and fewer commissary people.”
Currently, Flightpath’s hours are from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.