How Jack Stack quickly pivoted to survive the coronavirus crisis

In the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic, when the closures and cancelations were coming fast and furious, there was very little good news to be had. Every new development in the world seemed to be for the worse.

Well, except for cheesy corn in the grocery store. The sudden and unexpected emergence of the classic side invented by Jack Fiorella for his namesake Stack was one—modest, granted, given all the illness, death and economic doom—silver lining of the Lost Spring.

When the pandemic hit, it only took a week for Jack Stack to roll out burnt ends and cheesy corn.

“We went from the dining room shutting down on Monday to being in grocery stores by Friday,” says Keaton Dorman, one of the main drivers of the project. “We got really lucky—we had someone on our team who knew everybody and could broker those deals as quickly and efficiently as possible. And the grocery stores have been unbelievable partners every step of the way.”

The multigenerational family barbecue chain (we ranked them number two in town in our survey of the best last October) had never before sold its goods in grocery stores. But it had the capability, thanks to a mail-order business that’s been shipping KC ’cue all over the country for twenty years. Jack Stack has a USDA-approved production facility in Alma, Missouri, which is halfway to Columbia. The company simply geared up the volume and switched from shipping direct to dropping off at grocery stores, where they were given prominent placement by managers who could hardly keep up with the demand for protein.

“It was our way of trying to meet our guests where they were going,” Dorman says. “We’ve been very blessed by some good decisions that we made before any of this, and it just ended up flowing as ideally as you could imagine.”

Because Jack Stack delivered directly to grocery stores, they bypassed the bottlenecks that were leaving the stores struggling to keep shelves stocked. Jack Stack sent not only packaged food into the stores but also employees.

“The grocers started hiring a lot of our employees who we didn’t have hours because our dining rooms were shut down,” Dorman says. “It started as a hiring spree with us trying to live our values and keep our employees with hours, with money coming in, and shortly thereafter we just went to full retail.”

Jack Stack, like most other restaurants, is now slowly inching back toward normal. But while the dining rooms might be back open, don’t expect the cheesy corn to disappear from stores—in fact, Dorman says, they might just be getting started.

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