Another location of Sofi’s Crepes will close at the end of the month amid changing consumer habits.
The last day for the Sofi’s Crepes store at 9123 Reisterstown Road, in Owings Mills, will be March 31. Co-owner John Rusnak said the creperie’s lease is expiring, prompting him and co-owner Linda Conrad to take a hard look at the business, which has seen in-person traffic fall due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It seems like there’s a potentially long-term change in people’s behavior,” Rusnak said Thursday, with more customers ordering food via delivery rather than opting to dine in. “The people that come in and sit down are just few and far between.”
The store set up an online ordering system to accommodate that change, but didn’t have a large enough staff to employ its own delivery drivers, Rusnak said. Even with local laws limiting delivery fees from companies like Uber Eats and Grubhub to 15%, outsourcing delivery services has been costly. Rusnak said delivery providers have found other ways to collect money from restaurants, such as assessing fees on technology and equipment usage. All told, Sofi’s Crepes sent about 20% of its revenue from delivery orders to third-party services, he said.
Delivery sales have also cut into tips, which are normally a major incentive for employees working at the crepe shop.
A shift toward delivery has been a trend seen across the dining industry over the last year, particularly as the pandemic shut down or restricted capacity in dining rooms across the state.
A recent survey from the James Beard Foundation found that 91% of respondents want restaurants to continue offering takeout and delivery even as the outbreak eases up. (The survey also offered hope that customers will return to dining rooms soon, with 33% saying they expected to get back to their “regular dining out behavior” some time between April and September, and another 31% saying they’ve already resumed their pre-pandemic dining habits.)
Rusnak and Conrad shut down another one of their Sofi’s Crepes shops, at Belvedere Square in North Baltimore, late last year. The couple said that closure was in “direct correlation to the city’s reaction to the pandemic.”
“We understand that this is a real health crisis and we want to keep people well, but it is difficult to compete and to understand the decisions made by the city government while the state, the counties, the strip clubs, and the casinos stay open,” Rusnak told the BBJ at the time.
The Sofi’s Crepes chain, founded in 2003 by former stockbroker Ann Costlow, has four other locations in the region, including the original crepe shop on North Charles Street in Station North, which Costlow still operates. Rusnak and Conrad also own a Sofi’s Crepes outpost in Fells Point, which will remain open.
Rusnak said he’s hopeful a new round of restaurant relief will help buoy the Fells Point shop through the remainder of the pandemic.