Do right by the customer: Woodman’s of Essex focuses on the basics
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, Woodman’s of Essex was among the many restaurants across the Commonwealth forced to close their doors and rethink how they serve their customers. Yet the Essex landmark did something in March 2020 most small businesses did not.
It gave back nearly $70,000 to customers – deposits from 47 events that couldn’t take place in 2020.
“We just refunded everything and said, ‘If you could have the event and come back, that’s great, but right now we don’t want you to worry about it,’” remembers Maureen Woodman, Director of Catering Sales at Woodman’s. “We did that thinking about the customer. We knew it was the right thing to do. And most of these were weddings. So, you can just imagine that it was very difficult to cancel your wedding when you had been planning it for two or three years.”
Now, customers who come to Woodman’s will see that it has undergone a significant transition. Once an institution that offered fast casual dining inside and outside with more than 300 plus seats, it now offers fewer seats to align with safety, social distancing, and capacity protocols. Curbside delivery and small-scale catering for intimate gatherings are among Woodman’s other responses to the changing landscape of the dining industry within the pandemic.
“In March 2020, we went all-in with curbside,” says Woodman of the different revenue streams at the start of the pandemic. “We put the food in your trunk. We had phone ordering. We did so many different things. We just kept changing with the chaos, trying to adapt to the customer. And then around the third week of September, we brought the customer back into the restaurant.”
While many large events still have not been rescheduled due to crowd limitations, small events are being booked. And the restaurant is enjoying a significant bounce.
“Our restaurant side through COVID-19 has done very well, actually done better than 2019,” said Woodman.
Founded in 1914 by Lawrence Henry Woodman, known as Chubby, Woodman’s is a family business in every sense of the word. Chubby’s son, Lawrence Dexter Woodman, took over, and he gave way to the third generation, which now owns and runs Woodman’s – Steve and his wife Rhonda, and Doug and his wife Maureen. The family lineage is sizeable – there are 16 Woodman relatives in the fourth generation, 33 in the fifth, and nine in the sixth. In every sense, Woodman’s is a family affair; along with the third generation, there are 23 other Woodman relatives, aged 14 to 60 working at the restaurant.
Woodman’s landmark status built upon two key factors – 1) it offers food, such as gluten-free fried clams, that people don’t generally cook at home, and 2) it hasn’t changed any of its recipes since that first day 106 years ago.
“That’s what makes us different,” says Woodman. “When people were saying, ‘Oh, there’s trans-fat’ or ‘Don’t you want to use flour? It’s cheaper than corn meal?’ or ‘Why don’t you add some sugar to the batter? Did you ever think not to use evaporated milk?’ The answer is no. Never, never, never. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Our food tastes the same as it did when you were five years old or 45 years old. You want that exact same experience. Food is memorable. And our food is DELICIOUS!”