Claire Chan owns two New York eateries THE ELK and Bar Beau. After being nominated by Sarah Schneider at Egg Shop, we spoke to her for our ‘Doors Shut, Lights On’ series where we give individuals and businesses the opportunity to spotlight others during the coronavirus pandemic.
Claire shares which initiatives she’s been working with to give back to the community that has been supporting the hospitality industry in lieu of the desperately needed government relief.
Tell us about your businesses, THE ELK + Bar Beau
THE ELK is my first business which I opened in 2014— it is a speciality cafe located in the far West Village. I opened Bar Beau, a cocktail bar and restaurant in Williamsburg Brooklyn, a few years later in 2018. While they are very different propositions and business models, what they share is a common objective; to provide an informed yet informal experience for guests to enjoy a sense of community and connection. We strive to create the kind of place that feels like a home away from home.
I am originally from Vancouver BC, Canada and used to work in fashion before I decided to enter into hospitality. I incorporate my sensibility learned from these past experiences into the creation of my restaurants; through design, decor, offering, and culture.
How has the coronavirus affected your businesses and what is your current situation?
Like so many businesses during this time, I was forced to close the doors to both of my businesses indefinitely. Small businesses and the restaurant industry as a whole have taken a big blow, as our businesses rely on foot traffic and the general zeitgeist of folks going out to socialize—neither of which are happening at the moment. And while I have tried to tighten up any ongoing business costs, this virus has created a huge burden that has laid heavy on me as I watch all our resources dry up. On top of it all, I am struggling to protect the interests of my staff, whom I see like family and most of whom rely on hourly wages and tips to survive. The government programs, like PPP and the CARES act, have been confusing to navigate and there are still so many unknowns with when/how we can receive any financial assistance.
Have there been any positive learnings or lessons so far?
The silver lining to all of this has been the way our community has risen up to help each other, and the creative ways that I have seen businesses pivot to survive and keep cash flow going. There has been some really inspiring innovation, and it has forced me to take a hard look at both of my businesses and see where there is room to adapt and evolve.
I have also learned to not take the little things for granted—like the power of a smile or a small act of empathy from a stranger. These are the building blocks that will enable us to bounce back from this stronger and more enlightened.
How have your customers reacted?
Our customers have been absolutely wonderful! We are working with initiatives like Fuel the Fight and Bumble’s Small Business Opportunities (both of which came to us from loyal customers) to provide meals and coffee service to frontline healthcare providers at many local hospitals. We also started a GoFundMe a month ago, with proceeds going directly to my staff, and the response from our community was overwhelming!
These displays of compassion have brought so much light and hope to us during this time, and I am so utterly grateful for it.
If you had to pick one, which dish or drink from your menus would you have in unlimited supply during lockdown and why?
That’s easy! GOOD COFFEE. There’s nothing quite like a well-made cup of coffee—it’s warming, it gives me life, and it’s delicious! It also provides a slice of normalcy which is so comforting right now.
What would you say to other small businesses at the moment?
Let’s collab! Whether it is by sharing information, putting together a joint social media project, or even just commiserating... we need togetherness right now, and I am here for you if you ever want or need.
So which local business owner do you want to hero?
Kelsie and I have been friends for 10 years, and we’ve watched each other transition through being students, to graduating, working in fashion, and now to individually starting our own businesses. Her hardwork and dedication speaks for itself, and I’m so proud of what she’s created with Popup Florist. She is an absolute powerhouse and such an inspiration.
How did you come across Popup Florist?
When Kelsie came up with the idea to start Popup Florist, she approached me about doing her first “pop-up” at THE ELK for Valentine’s Day 2016. My customers loved it and we continue to work together every year for Valentine’s Day!
Do you have a favourite memory of working together?
Last summer, Kelsie and I partnered for a super fun project called Coffee + Flowers (@coffeeandflowersmtk) in Montauk. It was a pleasure to work with her and to watch her do her thing first hand! I’m sure we will continue to work together in some capacity.
Any parting top tips for what we should order from her?
I love her dried flower arrangements because they are so beautiful and last forever! They make a great gift to brighten up anyone’s day and she ships them nationwide.