Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read August 2021 — After a grueling year dealing with the devastating effects of the pandemic, Palm Beach’s hospitality sector is getting back to business. Michael Lessing, president and COO of Lessing’s Hospitality, shared why he is bullish on the area’s opportunities. “We definitely have a strong plan to ensure everyone knows who Lessing’s Hospitality Group is and we will continue to expand all of our business lines in the Palm Beach County area,” he told Invest:.
How has the pandemic transformed both your company and the industry?
When the pandemic first kicked off with mandated closures, we were in a state of shock. Thinking the mandates would only last for a short period of time, we furloughed and laid off roughly 1,600 employees. We quickly adapted all our restaurants to a takeout model and transitioned catering chefs into utility workers. In a collaborative effort, the management team moved food from location to location, from those that were shuttered to those that were open.
Pre-covid, takeout was 5% of our restaurant revenue, and during the pandemic 100% of our cash flow relied on takeout only. Now that our restaurants are back open for dining, takeout has maintained about 15% of our overall revenue. We also began our first ghost kitchen model by launching our own product called Lucky Clucker, and started serving the concept out of different locations where we had underutilized kitchens.
The pandemic also made us think about food service as a whole and how we could pivot from serving customers directly, to more of a mass distribution model. We were involved with emergency feeding programs in both New York and Florida that provided dry food pantry boxes and prepared food to people in need. In total we delivered over 2 million meals to families in need.
How is your company and the industry navigating ongoing labor shortages?
Just like the pandemic, the labor shortage has hit our industry hard. When we were able to reopen and welcome back our teams, we thought there would be more people looking for work. Once the federal increase in unemployment assistance took place, we found it difficult to fill positions in both the front and back of the house. The shortage is even more prevalent when looking for kitchen staff. We’ve always tried to be a company that attracts talent, and we pride ourselves in that. People who work for us recommend Lessing’s as an employer of choice and our long-standing history goes a long way in helping to retain incredible talent.
Even as we came into the summer season, our business has remained strong and that has translated into great positions available. We’ve been able to pull in a lot of great talent and new team members because we have the business and hours for them while many other places are slower because it’s off-season. Our restaurants on Love Street opened with a bang and they have remained extremely busy through the summer season because of their awesome vibe and location on the water. It’s a phenomenal spot. In Florida, our company is not seeing any significant issues within the labor market at present.
How has the sizable influx of new residents into the region impacted the events industry?
What would typically be a slower time of year in South Florida, is holding up to be much better than we’ve seen in the past. We believe that result is directly linked to the influx of new people who are moving to Florida and staying year-round. That can only have a positive impact on the state and local businesses. Operating in both New York and Florida, we’ve been able to observe firsthand that people are leaving New York and moving to Florida. There are still plenty of people in New York, but there is no question that there has been an influx of New Yorkers and tri-state area residents down into South Florida. We’ve been in the Florida market now for the past five years. We’re leveraging our name recognition in South Florida and growing our reputation quickly, especially in the Palm Beach County area.
What is your outlook for your company and the industry in Palm Beach County for the next five years?
We’re going to continue to evolve our company in Palm Beach County. It was a great offset to the seasonality of some of our business in New York, especially on the catering side, which is why we started in Florida with the catering operation at Pelican Club. Following our five-year plan, we’ve just taken over a new operation in St. Lucie County. We opened Crane Club at Tesoro, which is a club community that is being revitalized. We’ve taken over the clubhouse building, and we’ll be doing events, weddings, galas, and nonprofits in that 100,000-square-foot building within the next couple of months. We plan on evolving and looking for opportunities, especially within the Palm Beach County area. We have different restaurant brands that we will be bringing to Florida, including our chef driven breakfast and lunch concept brand, Hatch. We will be scouting for locations throughout West Palm Beach, Jupiter, down in Lauderdale, as well as Boca Raton. We have a plan to ensure everyone knows who Lessing’s Hospitality Group is and we will continue to expand all our business lines in the Palm Beach County area.
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