Dining at Poyo and The Sprout on Duckworth Street got a little leaner recently, but it has nothing to do with the menu.
The vegetarian restaurant no longer offers table service.
Manager Phil Kromer says the decision was based on two factors: an increasingly popular late-night vegetarian taco menu and a challenging downtown business environment that, as of late, has seen more liquidation sales than grand opening events.
“As you know, economically it’s pretty tough all around, especially in the downtown and especially with a small locally run business,” says Kromer.
“Because of the popularity of the late-night tacos, the owners thought it would be a smart move to put that on and change the business model and so far, it has worked out quite well.”
The owners being Elizabeth Mysyk and Greg Dunne, who were operating a pop-up called Poyo in the bright green three-storey building when they purchased it and the Sprout Brand from co-founder Julia Bloomquist in 2016 after a year in her quasi-pop-up incubator.
Kromer says the late-night menu was so popular that it was bringing in more than double the amount of business they were generating with regular table service during Sprout hours. Moreover, takeout has become an increasingly popular option.
“You can order a small or large taco and we can get that out in three minutes. The turnover of food is faster.”
Under the new service model, customers will order and pay at the counter, seat themselves and wait for their number to be called.
“You can help yourselves to water and if you need anything to drink, again, come to the counter and ask and we’ll help you out,” says Kromer.
“You can bus your own plates if you want and if you don’t we’ll go clean up after you.”
It’s not the only change. Some less popular Sprout menu items have been removed, and methods of payment for standard orders are limited to cash and debit. (Credit card payment will be accepted on large takeout orders.)
It has also meant the reduction of staff. While some were transitioned to roles between the kitchen and counter, there were a couple of layoffs.
But it’s also meant a reduction in price. Kromer says the most expensive entrée, for instance, went from being close to $18 taxes in to about $15.50.
Thus far, the feedback from patrons has been mostly positive.
“It creates a really nice, more relaxed atmosphere because people can help themselves to things, they don’t feel like they’re being served, so if anything, people are more relaxed when they go sit down.
“The majority, especially regulars to the Sprout, are completely fine with it because, as they said, ‘We’re here for the food.’”
At least one customer found herself longing for the personal touch that comes with being waited on during a recent visit.
“I’ll still come here because I love the food, but I think it’s a loss,” says Melissa Peddigrew, originally from St. John’s but now living near Toronto.
“I look forward to going to places local when I come home, so I think it would be nice to have the personable interaction, especially because Newfoundland is home and people are what I look forward to seeing.”