La Cuchara sets up online market to sell eggs, produce and other staples during pandemic

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The bar at La Cuchara

Starting this week, La Cuchara will use its sleek space in Meadow Mill to fulfill orders for an online market, allowing customers to buy items such as eggs, produce, milk and other staples online and pick them up to-go.

And they’ll carry a number of gourmet items sourced from local farms, including New York strip steak, aged goat cheese and raw unpeeled shrimp.

Ben Lefenfeld, La Cuchara’s chef and a co-owner of the Basque restaurant, said his team came up with the idea after hearing about the disruptions to the supply-chain that serves grocery stores due to the coronavirus pandemic, and concerns among seniors that shelves will be empty during the specially designated hours for older people to shop.

“It’s trying to fill a void in the market for people to get ground beef, to get fresh local seafood, to get produce that is needed right now,” he said.

Lefenfeld also noted that while many restaurants are able to stay open and offer carry-out service, which La Cuchara is also doing, prepared food is not at a price point that people can afford every day.

“People need to have the resources to get their staples, and additional prepared foods if they choose to,” he said. “We felt there was a need for this specifically.”

And while grocery stores have been cleaned out as people buy food and supplies to remain in their homes during the pandemic, suppliers that sell to restaurants, many of which have had to close or scale back operations, are not seeing such shortages, Lefenfeld said.

So far, La Cuchara is working with Third Way Farm, Moon Valley Farm and Charlottetown Farm to keep the cupboards stocked ahead of the online market’s official launch tomorrow.

Customers can place orders through a special site, which the La Cuchara team developed over the last several days. They’ll receive instructions on coordinating a pick-up time. Upon arrival, all they’ll have to do is pop the trunk of their car and the order will placed inside.

Or, for people without cars, the items will be placed outside while maintaining the six feet of separation advised for social distancing.

Lefenfeld said it’s his goal to only have two pick-ups in the restaurant’s parking lot during market pick-ups. The staff will fulfill the orders while wearing gloves and practicing social distancing.

Orders can be placed at any time, and the pick-up times are scheduled Wednesday to Sunday, from 3-6 p.m.

A 10 percent gratuity will be added to every order, with all proceeds going to the hourly staffers at the restaurant who are currently out of work. Those same out-of-work staffers have the ability to purchase goods through the market at a discount.

People have the option to remove the gratuity.

Lefenfeld is working with his co-owners, his wife Amy and brother Jake, and three other staffers to run the market and carryout orders. Prior to the pandemic, his staff was about 60 people, he said.

As they continue to iron out the process of taking and fulfilling orders, Lefenfeld said his eventual goal is to have a one-hour turnaround time. But, as with so many things during the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a lot that needs to be figured out on the fly.

We’ve gotta roll with the punches a little bit, ya know?” he said.

Brandon Weigel

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