Over the last six months, Victoria Bennett and Claire Pearson have been forced to rethink how to do business at two locations of Bennett’s Market and Deli during the pandemic. Now with winter approaching, large catering jobs cancelled, and deli and dine-in service down by 50 percent, the pair are banking on Atlanta’s typically mild fall weather to sustain their latest venture: bespoke picnic baskets.
It’s been a year since Bennett and Pearson opened the second location of Bennett’s Market and Deli along the Eastside Beltline trail. Bennett’s first opened seven years ago on the corner of Boulevard and Rosalie Street in Grant Park on Atlanta’s east side. It quickly became a neighborhood hub to purchase pantry staples and grab fresh breakfast sandwiches in the morning or a turkey club, tuna melt, or Reuben at lunch.
With the Grant Park market well established and momentum building at the Old Fourth Ward location, Bennett and Pearson were preparing to set the wheels in motion at the beginning of the year for a new patio along the Beltline.
“We were hoping to have our patio at the Beltline built out this spring, but with Covid, that didn’t happen,” Pearson tells Eater. “If we could find the capital, we would like to make that area more user-friendly, which would hopefully drive more attention to us.”
Pearson says Bennett’s Beltline location has been hit particularly hard by the lack of college students and television and film crews no longer residing in nearby apartments. Daily sales at the market have dropped by nearly 70 percent, and Bennett’s catering losses amount to over $6,000 a month since the health crisis began in March. Rumors that TV and film crews are beginning to return to work in Atlanta gives Bennett and Pearson hope they might recapture some of that business before the end of the year.
Currently, the pair are using funding received from Atlanta’s small business economic development agency, Invest Atlanta, to create an online retail market for Bennett’s. They hired a chef to expand grab-and-go options and prepared meals for purchase at both markets, and hope to host pop-ups by local chefs and food producers soon.
“We’ve been forced to find ways to do things differently, and we have to say, change isn’t always bad,” says Pearson. “We are hoping that the expanded grab-n-go, introducing chef-driven prepared comfort foods, and picnics can help us redefine and catch up. We hope this will make a difference.”
Bennett’s officially launches its customized picnic baskets this weekend, with options like a brunch picnic with a bottle of champagne, orange juice, and two breakfast sandwiches, or a family feast featuring an assortment of the deli’s sandwiches, a salad, fresh fruit, and cookies. Baskets cost between $40 and $100, depending on the size and contents.
“If picnics could get off the ground this fall, that could be a safety net fund for a slow winter,” Pearson says. “We are truly a mom-and-mom business. We are not restaurateurs, so we are proud of how our community and staff have handled this and what we’ve been able to accomplish, but still worry it may not be enough.”
To order a picnic basket, email Bennett’s with a date and time for the picnic, budget, food and drink requests, and market pick-up location. Baskets can be dropped off at either Bennett’s location afterwards or purchased for a small fee.
Open Monday - Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Masks required. Order food and market items online for pick-up and limited delivery.
568 Boulevard SE and 661 Auburn Avenue NE, Atlanta. bennettsmarket.com