Teachers Credit Union recently honored businesses across Indiana for adapting to the coronavirus pandemic, including Scarpe in Valparaiso. Overall, $35,000 was distributed to five winners of the TCU Innovate! Business Challenge, which highlights how businesses have adapted to unexpected and difficult pandemic conditions.
“The coronavirus pandemic has created economic conditions that have forced businesses and nonprofits to face unprecedented challenges,” TCU President and CEO Paul Marsh said. “Our business members have shown great agility and creativity in their operations, products and services, and we’re proud to support some of the best ideas through this challenge.”
Scarpe — Chris and Katrina Shoemaker’s Italian restaurant in downtown Valparaiso — was awarded $5,000 for shifting their sales model overnight. The fine-dining establishment adjusted by creating heat-and-eat dishes, carry out specials and free virtual cooking classes to recoup revenue lost to the pandemic.
Scarpe opened in downtown Valparaiso in June 2019. One year — and one pandemic — later, the Shoemakers found their meticulously calculated plan in doubt.
“It all came to a screeching halt,” said Chris Shoemaker. “We basically had to shut down on March 15 and then we reopened on June 11. So, for three months we were closed.”
Closed, but not idle. The Shoemakers, along with their son Adam, the restaurant’s sommelier and beverage director, and his partner, Olivia Fissé, Scarpe’s executive chef, reimagined their mission — and fast. As Chris Shoemaker says, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of adapting quickly in the coronavirus era.
“We needed to innovate and evolve or our restaurant was going to die,” Katrina Shoemaker said. “It was a simple choice.”
Immediately after the shutdown order was issued, the Shoemakers assessed what they had in their coolers and what they could repurpose or freeze. They developed heat-and-eat options to sell through Shoe’s Pizzeria, the family’s other restaurant, which continued to do a healthy carry-out business.
Scarpe’s soft drink cooler — emptied of its two-liter bottles — transformed into a “to-go fridge” that featured offerings like lasagna and tiramisu that customers would order to cook at home, along with their Shoe pizzas.
Establishing a presence at Valparaiso Market on Saturdays grew out of pandemic necessity. And Facebook Live also became a way to connect to their customers — and to find new ones.
Fissé, the executive chef, offered her expertise in vides helping home chefs learn to make homemade pasta and mozzarella cheese, and Adam shared his knowledge in pairing wines with food.
“We just tried to keep people engaged,” Adam Shoemaker said. “And when we reopened, we had people come in and say, ‘I didn’t even know you were here but we saw your videos and we are really interested that you make your own pasta and cheese.’ Our online presence and just showing people who we are, and what we do here has brought in some new people.”