Restaurant relies on takeout service to recover

Maxwell’s Caribbean American Take-out is seeing regular customers return after reopening.

Keiron Maxwell stands at the order window at Maxwell’s Caribbean/American Takeout on 18th street and Susquehanna avenue on Sept. 30. | COLLEEN CLAGGETT / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Only offering takeout might be the best decision Maxwell’s Caribbean American Take-Out ever made. 

After a slow summer returning from COVID-19 business shutdowns, sales are back to about 75 percent of what it was before the pandemic at the restaurant, said Savreta Barnett, the restaurant’s owner. 

“We did a lot better than sitting restaurants,” Barnett added. “People already know they just come in, and come and pick up their orders.”

The restaurant opened 16 years ago at The Gallery in what is now Philadelphia’s Fashion District, then moved to their current location at 17th Street and Susquehanna Avenue in 2015. 

Customers still come to the counter and order from the menu displayed overhead, however, they must now stand on red tape marking six feet apart and wear masks.

The City of Philadelphia ordered non-essential businesses to close March 16 for at least two weeks, but restaurants and bars could provide takeout services starting March 19, The Temple News reported. 

Maxwell’s shut down March 15 and reopened on April 10, Barnett said.

During the initial shutdown, many of their customers were uncertain if they were open or answering phone calls still, said Keiyon Maxwell, a line cook and substitute chef at Maxwell’s. 

“It was just kind of crazy because we had all the new regulations and rules for COVID, so it was kind of tough,” Maxwell said.

Two customers enter Maxwell’s Caribbean/American Takeout at 18th street and Susquehanna avenue on Sept. 30. | COLLEEN CLAGGETT / THE TEMPLE NEWS

In May and June, it was challenging to find some ingredients they needed at the grocery store, like turkey and yams, but recently they’ve had more difficulty in being unable to buy supplies, like gloves, Barnett said.

“As far as our health, we’ve gotta be very careful, we’ve gotta make sure we wash our hands, we’ve gotta spend more money for water, we gotta wear masks, we gotta do all that kinda stuff,” Barnett said. “Things we did never normally used to do.”

For a week in early June, Maxwell’s closed at 8 p.m. to abide by the City of Philadelphia’s curfew. The restaurant’s hours are still shorter than before the pandemic, now closing at 9:15 p.m. on weekdays and 10:15 p.m. on weekends to closing at 9 p.m. every night, Barnett said. 

Yet, most of their regular customers from before the shutdown are back, Barnett said.

“Maxwell’s always gave me superb service every time I come in here, and plus they’re more personal with their customers than most restaurants that I deal with,” said Lawrence Wright, 52, who lives at 24th Street near Somerset.

Customers wait to order from Maxwell’s Caribbean/American Takeout at 18th street and Susquehanna avenue on Sept. 30. | COLLEEN CLAGGETT / THE TEMPLE NEWS

While they had slow business at the beginning of the pandemic, the restaurant now fills up, with the line stretching from the counter to the door, even after the lunch rush is over.  

“The customers were still coming, but it wasn’t normal, it wasn’t like before,” Maxwell said. “But now it’s back, it’s coming back to normal now.”

Maxwell’s serves food using “recipes from Jamaican history,” including dishes like snapper, jerk chicken and oxtails, Maxwell added. 

“It’s hard to pick a favorite, it’s like, you know, like grandchildren,” Wright said. “It depends on what I’m in the mood for that day.”

Sometimes customers who ate at their previous location come looking for Maxwell’s and are excited to find that they are still open, Barnett said. 

“We find some people come and say, ‘We’ve been looking for you, we’ve been searching all over town,’” she added. 

The majority of customers are nearby residents, but they often get people from other counties and surrounding states like Delaware and New Jersey, Maxwell said. 

While some ingredients and supplies are more expensive than before the pandemic started, and they are enforcing health restrictions in their restaurant, business is better than it was over the summer, Barnett said. 

“It has taken a while to get back on track, but we’re here now,” she added.

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