Matt: When did you and your husband, Joel, open Órale in downtown Paso Robles?
Kristin: We opened our doors to the public and served our first burrito on January 15, 2016! Our first order was two burritos for a Father/Son who were working next door on the remodel for what is now The Catch! It’s a small town so I actually had known them for years and are old family friends. Such a small world 😉
Matt: What were you guys doing prior to the opening of this restaurant?
Kristin: Before opening our restaurant, Joel was working at a local Mexican restaurant in Atascadero (El Compadre) where he had been for 10 years where he learned everything about the restaurant and under a great mentor! He started as a dishwasher at 18 and quickly learned to welcome guests and take their orders even though he didn’t know English! He is always up for a challenge. By the time he left he was helping with several aspects of the business from scheduling and payroll to inventory management and customer service. His English improved tremendously from being in front with guests and also worked hard attending Cuesta College English classes at night.
I was working in the marketing department at MINDBODY where I continued to work until the Summer of 2019. I am currently working from home for a marketing technology consulting firm based in Minneapolis and running Órale’s marketing and events and anything else Joel needs me to do.
Kristin: Órale is all about sharing the rich culture and flavors of Mexico while also celebrating local California flavors. We have traditional items on our menu like our carnitas or chile rellenos, but also have modern dishes like the California burrito which come with carne asada and french fries. It’s about sharing our cultures and stories with each other. In the end it’s always been about people and what food can do as an advocate for community.
Matt: How did you come up with the name Órale?
Kristin: The word Órale has several meanings depending on the context, it’s commonly used as an exclamation expressing approval or encouragement. The closest thing we could think of in English was “Right on!” This is exactly the kind of mood we wanted to create–positive energy, and laid back atmosphere. We chose to name the restaurant Órale because we wanted to create a place where people could come and share a part of their day–and we’ll always respond with positivity and encouragement! If you have ever met Joel, you know what I’m talking about 😉
Matt: How was business doing pre-COVID-19?
Kristin: Amazing. We had the busiest January/February we have had since opening and we were receiving catering requests almost daily for everything from birthday parties to wine industry events to weddings. I even told my husband how our increase in business and event bookings was a sign of how great the economy was doing.
Matt: When the Shelter in Place order began on March 19th in SLO County, were you still open with regular hours? If you were, when did you have to change your model to take-out and curbside?
Kristin: When the Shelter in Place order went into effect on March 19th, we were still open and had just reduced our hours to 11am-7pm (opening an hour later and closing an hour earlier). This was right after daylight savings had ended and is when we are getting ready to extend our hours for the beautiful, busy warm evenings we enjoy in Paso! Also, before Shelter in Place, we offered “dining in” but at a limited capacity and were also already starting to move our operations to support more to go orders by offering family meals to go.
Matt: How has this impacted your business?
Kristin: It has been a roller coaster since the Shelter in Place order. On the not so great side, our sales took a dive and all of our scheduled caterings were canceled or postponed. We had 18 caterings planned between the Shelter in Place order and the end of May–Everything from weddings, to birthday parties to industry events. The first month or so was really stressful and scary.
On the positive side, we have been blown away by the support from our local customers who have shown up every day and we are so grateful. Our local customers continue to order takeout, they’re purchasing gift cards, they’re sending us encouraging messages, and promoting us on facebook and instagram. We are so humbled and grateful. It has also been so rad to see the community come together in so many ways to take care of each other, and we have met so many amazing people in the last two months and are building some incredible relationships. We’re networking more with the other neighboring businesses, collaborating, and sharing information and resources. While Covid-19 has been devastating in so many ways, we feel like there are some really beautiful things that will come from this–and that’s what we are trying to stay focused on!
Matt: What have you done to “roll with the punches” in regards to your restaurant?
Kristin: It seems like every day there are new guidelines, policies and ways of doing business, especially at the beginning of all of this. From an operation standpoint, the biggest impact was from moving fully to take out orders. We immediately began offering curbside pickup, and started offering family style dinners to make it more convenient for our customers who had all of sudden been required to juggle work, childcare, homeschooling and more! When 100% of our business moved to takeout, we realized that our offering a phone number to place orders wasn’t going to be enough–if we had two phone calls come in at the same time, one would go straight to voicemail and leave customers confused! To help relieve our phone lines and also make things more convenient for customers, we worked as fast as we could to roll out our online ordering. We were lucky in that we already had plans to offer online ordering later this year, so we had already researched the tools we wanted to use to offer this and had even done some of the menu configurations–this made it much quicker for us to start accepting online orders. There were a couple of kinks to work out at the beginning, but our customers rolled with the punches right along with us and have been so flexible and supportive!
The first couple of weeks were a whirlwind at the restaurant–not to mention we had our 3 and 5-year old at home with us now and I was also working full time from home. But we were so blown away with the community support–we had customers sending us encouraging messages, purchasing gift cards, sharing our social media posts and doing everything they could to support us. We knew we wanted to give back to the community and help families who had been impacted by all of this so we decided to launch our Adopt a Family program. The program began with free weekly meals “on us” with one meal going out to a local family in need throughout the months of April and May. Once the community heard about it, people immediately began asking to donate to the cause – and get even more meals out there to help more families. Again, we were blown away by the community support. We were trying to give back to the community, and in response, the community gave back more! We are still delivering meals each week, and in the first 3 weeks we delivered meals to 33 local families!
As far as what’s next, we are preparing for the phased re-opening! We are looking at how we can space out our tables to offer dine-in options that are 6 feet apart, we are making some fun social distancing reminder signs to post in our dining area and looking into how best to provide hand sanitizer and minimize high-contact touch points such as replacing tapatio bottles at the tables, with single serve packets.
Matt: Any advice to other small, local businesses?
Kristin: Keep going, be authentic, and give back! If you would have told us that the Shelter in Place was going to last as long as it has, we would have decided to close our doors–but I am so glad we didn’t! We’ve been able to keep our doors open and our staff employed. We’ve been more open and authentic with customers–asking for feedback and sharing our challenges, and as a result we are building some really amazing relationships! And lastly, I think the most rewarding part is being in a position to give back! It has been such an amazing experience to provide meals for local families. We get to make people smile, help relieve a little stress, meet amazing people, and share a little piece of our cultures and heart in the food we make!
Matt: Any particular message you’d like to send out to your customers?
Kristin: THANK YOU! We have never felt so loved and supported. Not a day goes by that my husband and I don’t comment on how fortunate we are to have such amazing customers! We love you and miss being together!