At a time when coronavirus restrictions are continuing to take a big bite out of the restaurant business, local restaurateur Brandon Livingston is biting back.
The Nine20Live barbecue restaurant that Livingston and his wife, Beth Ann Livingston, established in 2018 as an outgrowth of their food truck has endured a shutdown of nearly two months and many weeks of limited hours and drive-through-only operations, only to find an opportunity that Livingston believes will allow the eatery to not only survive the business-battering pandemic but thrive in its aftermath.
Nine20Live, which built a following with its barbecue plates and its signature smorgasbord-on-a-bun BG Massacre sandwich, will move in October from its location at 164 Iron Skillet Court to roomier quarters: the former home of the Hangry Jack’s breakfast restaurant at 2800 Scottsville Road.
“It’s better and bigger,” Livingston said of the new location. “It’s an opportunity to expand our menu. It’s definitely an upgrade.”
Livingston said the current Nine20Live location has a seating capacity of 48, which has been reduced to half that or less by government orders during the pandemic. As a result, the restaurant has been operating drive-through only and has restricted its hours to 11 a.m. through 6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.
The Scottsville Road location, which is in the same shopping center as the Kyoto and Puerto Vallarta restaurants, is 3,100 square feet with a seating capacity of 130. Even operating at 50 percent of capacity, that’s a boost in seating for Nine20Live.
“This is a blessing,” said Livingston, who plans to operate at the Iron Skillet Court location through Sept. 18 and open the Scottsville Road site Oct. 2.
Livingston admits this growth opportunity came about by happenstance.
He lost his lease on the Iron Skillet Court property, which he said will now be a pizza restaurant, and took to social media to try to find a new home.
Through what he calls “the power of Facebook,” Livingston was connected with Lost River Pizza owner Keith Coffman, who was struggling with getting Hangry Jack’s established after opening it last year.
Earlier this year, Coffman expanded Lost River Pizza into the former Home Cafe space and added a drive-through that has kept that restaurant going during the pandemic. But, with no room for a drive-through, Hangry Jack’s hasn’t attracted enough breakfast patrons to keep it viable.
“The expansion (of Lost River Pizza) was one of the best things that could have happened,” Coffman said. “It gave me a drive-through and allowed me to expand our seating.”
As for Hangry Jack’s, Coffman said: “After the governor went back to 25 percent capacity for restaurants, that was not real good.
“We didn’t have a drive-through, and about 80 percent of our customers were retirement age. They’re scared to come out because they’re at greater risk. We decided to shut it down. We could possibly reopen in a different location after the pandemic passes.”
Coffman says Nine20Live might be a better fit for the Scottsville Road space, particularly during the coronavirus restrictions.
“I’m glad they were able to find a new tenant,” he said. “I think Nine20Live will do great in that spot. Their clientele is younger and shouldn’t be as worried about the virus.”
Livingston is already making plans to add to his menu and extend the hours of operation at his new locale.
“We plan to be open from 11 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday,” he said. “We’ve never been open on Sundays before, but we’re planning to open from 11 to 4 on Sundays.”
Livingston is making plans to offer some different menu options, including a “Soul Food Sunday” menu.
“I’m thankful for the people in the community who have supported local small businesses like ours,” Livingston said. “It has been hard, but we’re still trying to make it.”
– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.