A Pandemic Was the One Thing Helen Rosenhoffer of BEAST Craft BBQ Couldn't Plan

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Helen Rosenhoffer can't wait to get back to her BEAST family. - JEN WEST
Helen Rosenhoffer can't wait to get back to her BEAST family.

Helen Rosenhoffer finally felt like she was finding her groove at BEAST Craft BBQ. She has been with the company since 2016 and was promoted to director of operations for the entire company in spring of 2019 after Dave and Megan Sandusky announced they were opening their second location, BEAST Butcher & Block, in the Grove. Getting both restaurants to where she wanted them to be took some time, but by this winter, she felt like she could relinquish some of the day-to-day floor management to focus on bigger picture problems. Then a pandemic altered her plans.

"All of this stuff was happening, and it was so unfortunate because I was just starting to be able to do my job of focusing on both locations," Rosenhoffer says. "I was finally starting to get a grip on what my job was. St. Louis [BEAST Butcher & Block] was starting to do very well, and busy season was upon us. Then, everything happened. I feel like when I come back, I will have to learn how to do my job all over again."

Rosenhoffer knew she was going to be away from her job for a few months even before the COVID-19 outbreak hit St. Louis. In April, she had her second child, so she'd already planned on taking maternity leave. However, the pandemic dramatically changed what she imagined her leave to look like. Instead of working as close to her due date as she wanted, she had no choice but to pack up in March following the Sandusky's tough decision to temporarily close the restaurant. Fearing for the safety of their employees and customers, the restaurant shut down all of its operations, except for BEAST Butcher & Block's butcher shop, furloughed its staff and plunged into uncertainty.

"It was weird to go from, 'Everything is going to be OK' to 'Oh, no, we are going to lose all this product in the walk-in,'" Rosenhoffer recalls. "We didn't know how to get customers in and still make them feel safe — and our employees too. We didn't want them to feel like they had to come in and put themselves and their families at risk. Laying them off wasn't easy, but we had to do it so they had a job to come back to."

Even with a new baby in tow, Rosenhoffer is doing everything she can to help the Sanduskys weather the storm. Now reopened for takeout, delivery and patio service, both locations of BEAST are trying to navigate the new normal of what dining out looks like. As a self-described policies and procedures stickler, Rosenhoffer is embracing the challenge of figuring out how a restaurant should run in such a time of upheaval. It's been difficult, but she sees it as an opportunity.

"I think it gave restaurants a time to look and see what we can do better," Rosenhoffer says. "Whether it's renovations, menu changes, a deep-cleaning, Meggan and Dave have done a great job at trying to turn this negative situation into a positive one and coming up with ways to better our environment for the staff and the customers."

For now, Rosenhoffer is doing her part from afar, balancing motherhood with monumental changes in her professional life. Though she admits it's hard being away from the business, she knows she's where she needs to be right now and will be back at it with the restaurant in no time.

"It's weird not being in the restaurant and not having control over policies and procedures right now, because I am such a psychopath about that," Rosenhoffer says. "I want to make sure everyone is following them. I take phone calls and talk to the general managers, but it’s never the same when you are sitting at home. I want to be able to support them and help them and make sure we are all making the right choices together and moving forward together. Sometimes, I feel like I am abandoning them, but they are doing a great job, and I am really proud of them."

Rosenhoffer took a break from taking care of her new baby girl to share her experience of being a restaurant professional during the pandemic, what changes she thinks are in store for the industry and what gives her hope during such a challenging time."

As a hospitality professional, what do people need to know about what you are going through?
We’re doing everything we can to maintain the best customer service while trying to protect the staff and the customer during this time.  

What do you miss most about your job?
I miss feeling productive the most. I am a checklist/planner type of girl, and I love completing tasks. Moving the restaurants in a forward direction is all I want to do.      

What do you miss least?
I do not miss carrying around three phones. I don’t have to do that every day, but when I do, it’s definitely not the best part of my day.    

What is one thing you make sure you do every day to maintain a sense of normalcy?
I check work emails multiple times a day and typically have a phone call with David or Meggan [Sandusky] about what’s next for the companies.      

What have you been stress-eating/drinking lately?
I eat a lot of string cheese. How much is too much? Also, caffeine and wine. I have a new baby and a toddler, so you get it.        

What are the three things you’ve made sure you don’t want to run out of, other than toilet paper?
Frozen pizza, diapers and my sanity of course!      

You have to be quarantined with three people.
Who would you pick? My husband and two kids. Cliche, I know, but they are pretty great.      

Once you feel comfortable going back out and about, what’s the first thing you’ll do?
Definitely go out to eat and take my kids to do something fun — probably the zoo and then Ted Drewes!      

What do you think the biggest change to the hospitality industry will be once people return to normal activity levels?
I really think that takeout, curbside and delivery will be a huge part of revenue. Dining in may not return to normal for a long time. I think people will still be hesitant and choose to take their food home to enjoy.      

What is one thing that gives you hope during this crisis?
The outpouring support that restaurants in St. Louis has seen from the community. It’s amazing that so many people have come together in such a weird time to support local, and not in just the restaurant scene.  

We are always hungry for tips and feedback. Email the author at [email protected]          
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About The Author

Cheryl Baehr

Cheryl Baehr is the dining editor and restaurant critic for the Riverfront Times and an international woman of mystery. Follow her on the socials at @cherylabaehr
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