When the pandemic hit, Elephants Delicatessen’s mission as a certified B Corp, which “uses the power of business to solve social and economic problems,” was tested. Overnight, their busiest store went from 1,000 to 50 transactions a day and their catering business halted to a stop. It was heartbreaking to lay off half of their 450 employees.
In business for 42 years, it’s the worst recession they’ve encountered. “We stayed true to our values because we were in survival mode,” says Director of Marketing Cheyenne Terbrueggen.
In an ironic twist, it all happened just days after winning the Restaurant Neighbor Award from the NRAEF in March 2020. They donated their $10,000 award to LIFT UP, adopting an 80-unit low-income apartment building in Portland, where they keep the food pantry filled with fresh produce and non-perishable staples, as well as sandwiches, soups and salads from their menu.
Aiming to “help people help people,” Elephants introduced the “Good Neighbor Menu,” named for their NRAEF award. The menu features well-priced meals that can be purchased, donated and delivered to shelters, healthcare workers and first-responders.
As the economy rebounds, Elephants is slowly rebuilding its business. “Our menu already featured many grab-n-go items, and we expanded our delivery service,” says Terbrueggen. They were able to keep eight locations open, closing only one store on a college campus and opening another downtown. Their mail-order partnership with Williams-Sonoma remains a bright spot.
Thanksgiving and Christmas remind Elephants of their central role in the community, who supports them in a virtuous circle. Last year, their holiday meals for six sold out in record time. A staff member dressed as a turkey was literally the focal point of the community, directing traffic while the meals were distributed. “We are grateful for our customers, many of whom have grown up eating the tomato-orange soup at Elephants,” says Terbrueggen.