Customers have been able to order their favorite items as usual from Lazybones barbecue in Roseville, but with some added safety precautions since the pandemic started.

Customers have been able to order their favorite items as usual from Lazybones barbecue in Roseville, but with some added safety precautions since the pandemic started.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Restaurants get creative to find, afford basic supplies

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Metro | Published February 23, 2021

 Lazybones smokehouse in Roseville has streamlined its menu to fit with what customers want and suppliers can provide amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lazybones smokehouse in Roseville has streamlined its menu to fit with what customers want and suppliers can provide amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 Lazybones barbecue offers maple bacon paczki each year on Fat Tuesday, but the treats weren’t as popular as they’ve been in years past. The owner said that with so many customers working from home, they weren’t buying paczki for their coworkers on the way into the office.

Lazybones barbecue offers maple bacon paczki each year on Fat Tuesday, but the treats weren’t as popular as they’ve been in years past. The owner said that with so many customers working from home, they weren’t buying paczki for their coworkers on the way into the office.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 The chef’s fried chicken at The Franklin Grill is a comfort food special the restaurant wouldn’t normally offer, but the pandemic shutdown provided an opportunity for new dishes.

The chef’s fried chicken at The Franklin Grill is a comfort food special the restaurant wouldn’t normally offer, but the pandemic shutdown provided an opportunity for new dishes.

Photo provided by Deborah Neighbors

METRO DETROIT — Deni Smiljanovski, the owner of Lazybones barbecue restaurant in Roseville, remembers what it was like this time last year to keep his cooler stocked and his customers fed.

While the takeout-only eatery was able to stay open during the first COVID-19 shutdown, a lot of the vendors behind the scenes were having trouble getting Smiljanovski the stuff he needed to carry on cooking.

“A lot of the factory farms started seeing spikes in the actual virus, so they closed down. My brisket costs went up 150%,” Smiljanovski recalled. “That was huge. I had to decide if I was going to adjust my prices or take it off the menu.”

Restaurants have struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic, as some customers became increasingly wary of dining out. Establishments have reconfigured their dining rooms, hours of operation and so many other things to make it work.

Among those major changes restaurants still have to grapple with is ordering supplies in an economy where essential items, from produce to plasticware, are either in short supply or are priced to fit demand.

Smiljanovski ended up keeping his staple brisket on the menu and added a couple of dollars to the price for a while. It was a tough call, he said, since he prides himself on keeping his prices reasonable.

“I didn’t know if people would pay it. A lot of them are out of work,” he said.

Along with meat — a pretty integral part of a booming barbecue business — Smiljanovski said other supplies went up in cost or became completely unavailable. The latex gloves his staff has used in the kitchen for years shot up in price, and some of the spices he orders from overseas were restricted from being shipped to the U.S. He hasn’t been able to order them since.

Alas, some items did have to fall off the menu for Lazybones and Smiljanovski’s other restaurants, like the Brown Iron Brewhouses in Washington Township and Royal Oak. There used to be seven different kinds of burgers on the menu, including a mushroom swiss burger and a corned beef and egg breakfast burger. Just the most popular of the lot, a bacon cheeseburger, remains.

“It’s not just supplies. I don’t have the bodies to produce everything we need to keep those items on the menu,” he explained.

But there are some benefits to scaling back. Smiljanovski said the new streamlined menu is popular with customers, and he plans to supplement with seasonal specials based on what his vendors say is freshest at the time.

Outsourcing delivery to a food delivery service has worked out great, too. He’s seen a big jump in delivery orders, and while he pays a commission for the service, he’s able to keep his staff in house, where he needs them most.

“I’ve been thinking about doing that for a while, even before COVID,” he said.

Across town, at The Franklin Grill, general manager Deborah Neighbors is choosing to focus on the silver lining, too. One of the biggest helps to the downtown Franklin restaurant this past year, she said, has been the suppliers themselves.

“We’re very fortunate because we use a lot of family-owned vendors. They’re a little smaller and a little more flexible,” she explained. “Instead of selling me 30 pounds of something, they’re selling me 10 pounds. Some of the bigger guys don’t have the ability to do that.”

She, too, found that meat became too pricey when the pandemic set in, so filets were taken off of the menu. But a slower dine-in crowd paired with a sleeker menu meant the chefs found a little time to experiment.

“We really became geared more toward comfort food. All our pasta and meatloaf did really well, and during the shutdown, we ran some specials. Like fried chicken, which we never do (normally),” Neighbors said.

The Franklin Grill has also added Aerus air scrubbers to the restaurant’s historical building. The machines, Neighbors said, are able to clean and ionize the air for guests. Aerus’s website says the scrubbers can eliminate 99% of pathogens from circulating air, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

“We’ve also gone to single-use menus. We’ve reconfigured our dining rooms. We’re doing great,” she said.