Landmark Adopts ‘Pick-It-Up,
Take-It-In’ Approach This Week
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Ryan Brooks, third-generation owner of Brooks BBQ is a man of his word.
When the COVID threat shuttered the restaurant in March, he began innovating almost immediately to ensure the regional culinary landmark would make it through.
He marshalled a three-vehicle fleet – his own included – and began to delivery to homes and offices.
He offered take-out and curbside pickup with online ordering.
He moved waiters and waitresses onto the bottling line so that none of his employees had to go without a paycheck.
As the weather got warmer, he expanded outdoor dining by 50 seats, and added an outdoor with a restroom trailer that’s cleaned every 20 minutes.
“We could serve 900-1,000 diners a day,” he said. “Folks didn’t stop coming, and we were so thankful for them for supporting us.”
And now, with the outdoor dining season winding to a close and many his army of loyal patrons still wary of dining indoors, he’s turning to “pick-it-up, take-it-in,” a model that’s become popular nationwide.
Ryan is active in national restaurant organizations, and at conventions he and other barbecue vendors seek out the most popular such establishments in the host cities.
“I’ve travelled to some of the best barbeque restaurants in the country,” he said a few days ago at an interview in Brooks’ spacious dining hall at 5560 Route 7, “and every single one of them has a ‘pick-it-up, take-it-in’ concept.”
It’s simple: order your food – either online or in person – pick it up at one of the windows and take it inside to dine with your party – for now, at socially distanced tables, of course.
“It’s about being able to sit and eat with your friends,” he said. “It’s very relaxed, very back-to-basics.”
Gone are the self-serve salad bar, the beef bun and the sampler platter, where supply issues made getting the top round cuts difficult.
“We were even having trouble getting our take-out boxes,” he said. “If you came in once a week for a month, each time, you’d probably have a different manufacturer making the containers.”
The beef bun was replaced by brisket, which Brooks said has been a popular addition. “It’s flying,” he said.
But that’s not the only change. “People were always disappointed that we didn’t serve beer,” he said. “The pairing of beer and barbeque is a natural.”
Partnering with Cooperstown Brewing Co., diners can order a can of their new “Third Man Ale” with their meal. The restaurant will also have beer on tap, as well as Sidney-based Awestruck hard cider and seltzer.
Three take-out windows have been added at the front of of the building – as takeout multiplied at with the New York Pause, line multiplied too.
“We had one telephone line when this started,” he said. “Now we have seven, and they are constantly ringing.”
The gift shop has also been expanded and moved from behind the main building to the front of the restaurant.
And if you’re looking for a familiar face, Phyllis O’Sullivan, Ryan’s aunt and waitress of 60-year tenure, will still be up front to help serve her customers. “She’ll be right there when we open our doors,” he said.
Brooks worked alongside his kitchen crew on the busiest days. “It’s like being in a submarine,” he said. “We had to change the whole flow to two prep lines, and we incorporated a lot of their ideas to make it easier to work in there. We learned so much about each other.”
At the bottling plant, he had to add a second shift to keep up with the demand for take-home sauces. “Our bottling business is up 110 percent,” he said. “We’ve got 50 people on the line.”
Brooks stopped the vaunted catering business in the spring, but he’s again Brooks reached out to non-profits – which he recognized are also struggling – to partner for “drive-thru” dinners.
“Our catering is back up to six days a week,” he said. “We just did over 6,000 dinners for the health care workers at Albany Med, at cost.”
He paused, then went on: “70 years of history had to change in seven months,” he said. “But it’s time to rethink our process and update.”