There is an old proverb that states, “necessity is the mother of invention.”
For restaurant owners such as Jason Medders of Aubri Lane’s, these words perfectly represent what it has been like to make their businesses keep working during the last several weeks amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s not your typical restaurant model anymore,” said Medders. “Every single day’s different, and you have to be able to adapt quickly and hopefully make the right decisions for your business.”
Medders opened Aubri Lane’s, named for his two children, in downtown Milledgeville in 2009. After a successful run, the restaurant made the move a few miles north in January 2018 to partner with The Club at Lake Sinclair. The restaurant has a loyal following that enjoys the tasty menu items and quality dining environment.
When Aubri Lane’s was forced to close for dine-in service in mid-March, Medders was faced with the challenge of reimagining his business model in new and creative ways. This has involved a great deal of flexibility on his part.
“I started a new takeout program and curbside pickup. It’s been working out great. Every day it evolves to a different situation,” said Medders. “We’re constantly adding to this thing and making it work for our customers.”
While Medders has been able to retain most of Aubri Lane’s popular menu items such as shrimp and grits, steaks and salmon entrées, he has had to make adjustments as needed to side dishes and sauces for the meals to travel well in takeout boxes. Additionally, Medders has come up with innovative ways to keep the customers coming back, including the development of an online butcher shop.
“You just go online to order what you want. We cut it, package it; just swing by. We bring it out to the car, and you go home,” said Medders.
Some of the items available from the online butcher shop include cuts of steaks, ribs, seafood items and jars of Aubri Lane’s house steak sauce.
“It’s a homemade steak sauce I’ve been making since 2010,” explained Medders. “I’ve recently started making it in bigger batches and jarring it, so you can buy a jar of that on our butcher shop as well.”
Other popular options include the steak lover’s box, which includes a variety of filets, ribeyes and New York strips, along with steak sauce, and the Lane’s burger box, which includes four patties of Aubri Lane’s popular ground beef blend, along with brioche buns, and all of the fixings.
“It’s all in a nice little pack ready for you to take home and throw on the grill,” said Medders.
Aubri Lane’s has also branched out its business to include family-style meals for pickup, such as lasagnas, half pans of mac and cheese, homemade chicken pot pies and casseroles. Daily specials are also posted on the website and through social media.
Takeout and butcher shop orders can be placed online, and customers can choose to pay online or pay upon pickup. Medders has been working regularly with his web developers to continue tweaking the website to optimize customers’ ordering experiences.
Another way Medders has made the best of the recent situation is by becoming engaged in helping the community. As Aubri Lane’s began offering family-style meals for takeout, Medders found himself at the end of the day with extra casseroles that had not been purchased. He decided to put the extra food to good use.
“I would grab my gloves and throw on my mask and I’d go visit our urgent care center here,” said Medders.
Medders started taking extra casseroles to the frontline health care workers at the local urgent care, hospital and 911 call center as a way to thank them for all of their tiring work during the pandemic.
Soon enough, the philanthropy developed into a more organized venture through the partnership between Aubri Lane’s and The Club at Lake Sinclair. Medders has worked with club manager Jeff Allbright to continue feeding local health care workers.
“Aubri Lane’s restaurant partners with The Club at Lake Sinclair,” said Medders. “Together, Jeff and I contacted Navicent, and we decided that we would start donating lunches or dinners to all of the staff twice a week.”
To date, the partners have donated more than 500 meals, 500 snacks and 1,000 beverages to local hospital employees, people Medders refers to as “our heroes.”
Recently, Medders brought his entire staff back on board to begin training for an eventual return to safe dine-in services. He hopes to have the dining room open soon, but will most likely start by reservation only in order to control the number of people in the restaurant and ensure the safety of both his staff and customers.
While the takeout services will continue, the slow and progressive return to welcoming customers inside represents what Medders hopes will be an eventual return to normalcy.
“You’ve got to start somewhere,” said Medders.