The restaurant and bakery Emma + Ollie, located at 607 S. Washington St., added several new elements such as take-and-bake casseroles to its business model to adjust to the world amid a pandemic.
Named after Chef Rebecca Rather’s great-aunt Emma and owner Kathryn Harrison’s grandmother, Ollie, the restaurant and bakery are inspired by the comfort food and baked goods served with love by their family members.
“It’s a lot about honoring those women in our lives that inspired us to love and nurture our friends and family through good food,” Front of the House manager Leigh Lacy said.
Lacy said their business is like a visit to Grandmother’s house when she’s prepared to feed her progeny with something good, homemade and fresh from the garden.
“Everything is locally sourced and everything is made from scratch,” Rather said.
The restaurant lists some of the local businesses and Texas farmers they support on their menu and website, such as Agarita Creek Farms in Fredericksburg and 44 Farms in Cameron.
“During a time as challenging as last year, it was even more important to support those local small farms,” Lacy said.
Since life is chaotic right now, Lacy said a lot of the changes made were to help alleviate the chaos in their customers’ lives.
“We absolutely love taking care of our locals and we appreciate it,” Lacy said.
At the end of the day, they distribute any leftover pastries to businesses and other groups throughout town since they are baked daily.
“We also try to do breakfast at the hospital as often as possible,” Rather said.
Lacy said in trying times, it’s important to do what you can to support one another and at Emma + Ollie, they had to consider what their customers needed.
“When this initially hit, everyone was afraid to go to the grocery store; everybody was trying different things to help people as much as possible,” Lacy said.
When the coronavirus started to change everything early last year, Emma + Ollie switched to serving to-go orders.
The restaurant and bakery started to offer more than regular menu items with the addition of casseroles for customers to take and heat up at home.
At the end of a long day working from home or taking care of kids, casseroles are “an easy thing that would feed a family,” Lacy said.
The casseroles offered are updated on their Instagram and website with some of the popular casseroles being Shepherd’s Pie and Chicken Enchiladas, Rather said.
Rather had experience with takeout and casseroles to-go at one of her previous businesses, Rather Sweet.
“We also are creating grab-and-go things, so not only the casseroles, but you can come in and get a quart or a pint of chicken salad or pasta salad,” Lacy said.
When Emma + Ollie opened back up to the public, they stopped with to-go orders but continued to offer the take-and-bake casseroles.
The seating had to change, and they made one of the dining rooms into a retail space — which was a plan in the works even before COVID-19.
“People ask how we have handled it and I said, ‘Honestly, it is like riding a 10-speed bike, and we’re constantly shifting gears, because day to day, things change,” Lacy said.
Like a lot of businesses, Lacy explained, they had to reevaluate what they offered to their customers and the best way to provide a sense of normalcy while also considering safety.
“It’s about pivoting quickly,” Rather said.
It reminded Lacy of the episode of “Friends” where Ross yells the word “pivot” as Chandler and Rachel try to help him move a couch up tight stairs.
Another major change they had to face is limiting the crowds, since visitors lined up mornings for brunch.
“Now with limitations of how many people you can seat, or not seat too close together,” Lacy said, “the challenge is how do we do our best to accommodate that.”
From the beginning, the staff at Emma + Ollie has been diligent about masks and cleanliness in order to protect their customers as well as their staff.
“We really tried to take good care of them and not only keeping them safe and — it is a family — try to support one another,” Lacy said.
A lot of college students who work at Emma + Ollie seasonally are gone, leaving some job openings they are working to fill.
Staff members of Emma + Ollie are planning and looking ahead, but continuing to assess the impact COVID-19 can have on their business.
“In the meantime, we are just focused on what we can do to try to make people feel welcomed and also that their quality of experience and quality of food is up to the expectations of what we want to provide.”