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Fat Daddy’s rises to pandemic challenges with community vibe

By Ryne Williams daily Herald - | Mar 19, 2021
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Chad Pritchard plates a piece of pizza at Fat Daddy's in Provo on Monday, March 16, 2020, in Provo. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Chad Pritchard pulls a pizza out of an oven at the original Fat Daddy's location in Provo on Monday, March 16, 2020, in Provo. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

This time last year, owner Chad Pritchard and his employees at Fat Daddy’s pizza were sitting around in shock. They all had questions about how the state would respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and how if would affect businesses. Would the restaurant be shut down? And if so, how would that shutdown impact the restaurant industry?

“It’s certainly been a lot of sleepless nights,” Pritchard said. “We’ve done better than a lot of restaurants, but we’re still not where we should be. It’s been very tough mentally because we were forced to change our gameplay mid-stream with very little warning at all.”

The pandemic forced some creativity and adaptation for the restaurant, which was still a traditionally takeout business. It was easier for Pritchard and company to transition into the COVID-19 pandemic, and his experience was a lot different than the experience of other restaurateurs.

Immediately after hearing the news of the move to strictly takeout, Pritchard got to work. He started to interact with people on social media more, reaching out to the community and trying to engage with them at a higher level.

Pritchard said many restaurants are afraid of social media, but stressed the importance of interacting with the community as people rather than a restaurant.

One of his first thoughts was how children would eat after the soft closure for schools. This was something he dealt with himself, bringing his kids to work to feed them, and he turned it into a promotion.

He knew that he was not the only parent having that problem, so he began feeding children for free. When it was all said and done, he fed over 5,000 kids.

“The big thing we did is say, ‘We’re a business, we employ 12 people, and we’re important,’ ” Pritchard said. “We never accepted that our business wasn’t essential, and so we stayed open, we kept people employed, we fed a lot of people, our business went up, we moved locations, and we expanded our menu. That was all because we worked really hard to stay open. This is all I do, and I wasn’t going to accept defeat.”

The move saw Fat Daddy’s move to Center Street in Provo and Pritchard’s no-quit attitude helped the restaurant continue.

As more people looked to eat locally, Pritchard said that it brought people together on a local level. The governor even stepped out and started an eat-out initiative.

Another way Pritchard adapted was having Fat Daddy’s selling groceries at one point during the grocery shortage.

“That was something we worked with as well because the restaurant business and the grocery business have two different supply chains,” Pritchard said. “The supply chain was broken, so you ended up with grocery stores not having food and restaurants having too much food. We worked with the governor’s office to make it possible for us to sell groceries through our restaurant.”

The creativity continued as Pritchard looked to find a way to fill the void that was left when the entertainment industry shut down.

With people not going out as much, Pritchard started offering pizza kits that could be made at home.

“You’re forced to be creative in a situation where your people can’t come in and dine in,” Pritchard said.

Then in May, dine-in was reopened and Pritchard admitted there was some worry that the regular customers might not return. He got emotional when recounting the first regular who walked back in the door. He said Fat Daddy’s was able to offer a service that was needed at a time of uncertainty.

He would remind patrons that he will be there every day, opening the door at 11 a.m., sporting a bowtie, and pizzas will continue to be made.

While dining in may have reopened, and stayed open through the rest of the pandemic, Pritchard was still adapting.

With the big shift to takeout orders, Pritchard was busy thinking how certain menu items would perform in a takeout setting. Pasta was once offered on the menu, but the pasta noodles would overcook in the delivery container, so he pulled it off the menu to add burgers and fries.

This created a good blend of takeout and dine-in, which is how other businesses also stayed relevant, according to Pritchard.

“I think it’s fundamentally changed the dining dynamic of our restaurant industry,” Pritchard said. “There are a group of people that are going to eat out regardless, bombs are dropping around them and they’re going to go to dinner, and we want to cater to those people, but there are others that will want to eat (at home). It has created these two groups of people that we cater to.”

Pritchard even brought up a recent customer who came in. He asked if the patrons had ever been into the store before, and they responded by saying they had ordered takeout from Fat Daddy’s almost 10 times during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said it felt good to see customers who supported the company through takeout make their way into the restaurant itself.

As for the biggest lesson Pritchard learned through the COVID-19 pandemic, he said it was to build a community.

“It taught me that we can’t rely on Washington or Salt Lake to solve our problems,” Pritchard said. “If you have issues in your community, it starts in your community. We faced the pandemic, and through it all, we stayed open, we continued serving customers, we stayed affable to our community, and we really tried to dial in on our community.”

He began to ask himself how Fat Daddy’s could help people in the community and stopped looking to people outside of the community to help. It was a theme of looking internally to build the community up.

Regular customers that were laid off even volunteered to help serve the kids that were coming in to eat for free. Pritchard could not pay them, but he did tip them out at the end of the day.

The goal was to make Fat Daddy’s a place where people could come to get comfort from food, but also commiserate.

“Personally I am very community-driven, we do a lot within the community,” Pritchard said. “I just kind of went to my restaurant as well. We have people who are looking for jobs who come here and use our restaurant as a place where they can make an office. We have people who can’t go to their office, but they also can’t work at home, and so they come in and use our internet. It’s a place that we provide because sometimes people just need to get away, sometimes people need to be in a place that’s not the same four walls they have been looking at.”

Along with this focus on community, Fat Daddy’s was able to define itself through the COVID-19 pandemic. While the pizza shop was a side gig for Pritchard and his wife’s other restaurant, the pandemic forced Pritchard to ask, is Fat Daddy’s a pizza shop? Or is it a restaurant?

The answer was a little bit of both.

Pritchard said there’s a sense that the worst of the pandemic is over, which is a step in the right direction.

“I don’t think it will ever be like it once was,” Pritchard said. “I think what you saw from the Spanish Flu was people changing their paradigm. They started washing hands more, even the LDS Church stopped doing communal sacrament cups. I think what we’re going to see is a change in life.”

With regards to the hope for Fat Daddy’s moving forward, Pritchard said he wants his business to provide for his family, one that provides for his employees’ families, but also a business that means something to the people of Provo.

He also doesn’t want to be just a faceless shop down the street, wanting people to come to Fat Daddy’s because they care about the community.

“We’ve always thought that Fat Daddy’s should be a place where people could feel like they come home to,” Pritchard said.

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